The USTA today unveiled a dramatic new sculpture honoring trailblazer and tennis great Althea Gibson. The sculpture, created by Eric Goulder, was unveiled outside Arthur Ashe Stadium on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open.
Gibson became the first African-American tennis player, male or female, to win the title at the U.S. National Championships (now the US Open) in 1957. She was a trailblazer of great talent and greater courage, who overcame many obstacles while compiling a career filled with firsts. In addition to breaking the color barrier in tennis (1950), she was the first African- American to win singles titles at the French Championships (1956), Wimbledon (1957) and the U.S. Nationals (1957). In 1958, she repeated both her Wimbledon and U.S. wins. With her success, she became the first African-American to be named Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year (1957 and 1958). Gibson won 11 Grand Slam titles in all, adding six doubles crowns to her five major singles crowns. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971 and was inducted into the US Open Court of Champions in 2007.
“Althea Gibson’s talent, strength and unrelenting desire to achieve made her a great champion,” said Patrick Galbraith, President and Chairman of the Board, USTA. “She made tennis a better place, by opening doors and opening minds, doing so with grace and dignity. She is receiving a recognition she richly deserves.”
“It’s simple. She’s the first African-American to break the color barrier in our sport,” said former USTA Chairman Katrina Adams. “By doing so, she made it possible for every person of color after her to have a chance to achieve their goals in the sport. This is a tribute that’s long overdue—period.”
Created by noted American sculptor Eric Goulder, the Althea Gibson sculpture is comprised of a bust of Althea rising from a granite block placed amid a group of five other granite blocks. The bust of Althea is 3.5 times life-size and each of the five granite blocks weighs 2.7 tons. Altogether, the sculpture weighs more than 18 tons. The Althea bust is patinated bronze, made in water-based clay, molded and cast using the lost wax method. Goulder spent roughly three months on the model and three months on the large clay. The molding and casting took an additional three months. The model was made in a 600-year-old villa in the hills surrounding Florence, Italy, that was once owned by Machiavelli and remained in his family for 150 years. The large clay and bronze cast was made in Pietrasanta, Italy, at the foundry, Massimo Del Chiaro. The granite used for the blocks comes from South Africa. It was cut and hand-flamed at Henraux S.p.A Marble and Granite Company in Querceta, Italy. The monument was shipped in six crates by boat and traveled 4,146 miles to reach its present location.
To enhance fan interaction with the piece, the sculpture also will activate an augmented reality experience. Developed by MRM/McCann, visitors will be able to activate exclusive content about Althea Gibson’s life and legacy by focusing the Augmented Reality (AR) Viewfinder found within the 2019 US Open app onto the sculpture. Narrated by Billie Jean King, the additional AR experience traces Althea’s humble roots, her early interest and involvement in tennis, her career and her legacy through video footage, photos and graphics. Fans can also view the AR experience anywhere by using the APP to place a full-size 3D “hologram” of the sculpture into their surroundings and re-live the experience again or for the very first time.