Tuesday, August 18, 2009

History and the Brickell Bridge

In the utter chaos that frequently occurs in downtown Miami, adventurous travelers can find a gem on U.S. 1 as it passes over the Miami River. The Brickell Avenue Bridge features original sculpture work by Cuban-American artist Manuel Carbonell.

Carbonell's artwork features a tower in bas-relief and panels along the sides of the bridge that commemorate the Tequesta Indians, who first settled along the banks of the Miami River and were discovered by European settlers in the 1500s. By the 1800s, the Tequesta had dwindled to only a few members.

The centerpiece of Carbonell's series of sculptures is the Warrior, Mother and Child that sits atop the tower. Included in the tower itself are depictions of native flora and fauna, wildlife and other images that depict the history of the first known settlement in the area.

In addition to the natural wonders of the Miami River, the artist also paid tribute to some of Florida's most influential pioneers, including railroad man Henry Flagler, citrus grower Julia Tuttle and environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, defender of the Florida Everglades.

I had the honor of meeting the artist when the project was being developed and visiting him in Pietrasanta, Italy when the casting of the pieces took place. Carbonell went to Pietrasanta because the craftsmen in that tiny coastal town are considered to be the finest in the world.

Not too far from Pietrasanta is the town of Carrara, where some of the finest marble is quarried. Michelangelo's David was carved from Carrara marble.

I have a great memory of watching this artwork come to life. I remember the heat in the smelting room where the bronze figures were cast. I remember talking to the artist as he explained his vision of the project: the tower rising to the sky and the images he would create, honoring the past and a tribe of Indians now long forgotten.

Should you find yourself in downtown Miami with a few minutes to spare, find someplace to park and walk up to the bridge. It will be a rewarding journey into the past.

David Fierro is a transportation public relations consultant. He is a former newspaper and magazine editor and worked for the Florida and Virginia departments of transportation.

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