Artist Michelangelo believed that a sculpture lay within each slab of marble. It was up to him as a sculptor to remove everything that was part of the finished masterpiece.
Oakland-Craig graduate Nathan Murray, Class of 2002, takes a different approach as he works with clay. His work is more about what goes into the creation than what is removed.
Murray was recently commissioned by the Nebraska Hall of Fame to create a bust of its newest inductee, Malcolm X.
Honored does not begin to describe Murray’s feelings as bust is soon to be cast.
“This is a really historic moment,” Murray said. Malcolm X will be the first black Nebraskan to be inducted into the hall of fame. The statuary at the State Capitol represents Nebraska who have done extraordinary things.”
Murray remembers touring the State Capitol as a kid and walking through the statuary. Seeing Malcolm X there and knowing he created the bronze bust will be a big deal for him.
Enjoying what he does as an artist, he would have been just as happy to create a bust for whoever was to be inducted. Being Malcolm X gave Murray a chance to learn more about life as a black man in the early to mid 1900’s.
Malcolm was born in Omaha in 1925 and later moved with his family to Lansing, MI. The son of a Baptist minister, as a young man he experienced first hand what it meant to be black in his era. His father was struck by a streetcar and killed. It was suspected that the apparent accident was likely a murder by whites.
A bit rebellious as a teenager, Malcolm spent six years in prison at which time he converted to Islam. A subsequent trip to Saudi Arabia became a life-changing experience as he completed his personal pilgrimage to Mecca.
It is said that at this time, Malcolm formed a deep belief in the brotherhood of man. His charismatic ability to lead coupled with being a gifted orator helped stir the civil rights movement.
For Murray, capturing such a well-known transformational individual presented a unique challenge. He set out to portray him accurately. Per Malcolm’s daughters request, he wanted the bust to represent the activist as being both approachable and accepting.
Murray decided to draw from images and interviews of Malcolm upon his return from his pilgrimage.
“His eyes were more open upon his return,” he stated. He carefully detailed Malcolm's arm being extended and his hand being open showing he was willing to work with anyone.
The finely detailed bust began in clay, carefully crafted to capture the essence of Malcolm at the most pivotal moment of his life. A rubber mold is then made from the clay and max is melted into the mold. Murray said this allows him to refine any details in the wax before a ceramic mold is created over the wax. From that shell, the molten bronze will be cast.
A dedication ceremony will take place on May 22nd at the Capitol in Lincoln.
Road to the Statuary
Murrays gifted hands typically works with clay. He has been noted for several award winning pieces crafted over the years. In early 2023, The Union for Contemporary Art in Omaha commissioned Murray to try his hand at creating a bronze sculpture of Shirley Tyree for the new theater that bears her name.
As call was sent out across the country from artist to submit their vision for the Malcolm X induction, Murray was invited as one of three finalists to make his presentation to the Nebraska Arts Council, History Nebraska, the Malcolm X Foundation, and Shabazz Center in New York City.
Murray teaches art at the Lux Center for the Arts in Lincoln offering classes in clay and also enjoys the projects he is commissioned to do. He also travels to teach workshops and has taught at Nebraska Weslyan on occasion.
Murray is the son of Helen Taylor Murry and the grandson of May and the late Bill Taylor of Oakland.
“I love making art and would be happy to be commissioned for anyone. Creating a bust of Malcolm X is special for me and for the State of Nebraska.”