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Chuck Brown Park sculptor offers sneak peek of her work

The concrete that will underpin “Wind Me Up, Chuck” gets poured next week.

Piers that will support the many-ton steel sculpture that will be the centerpiece of Chuck Brown Park – to be located inside Langdon Park in Northeast – have already been driven more than 30 feet into the ground, to help compensate for the unexpectedly unstable soil site engineers found there. The pieces of the artwork itself are now in fabrication.

The sculpture its creator Jackie Braitman dubbed “Wind Me Up, Chuck” in a nod to one of Brown’s hit songs, features representations of a stage and dance floor, with an abstract version of Brown himself leaning into the crowd, some of whom seem to be singing into his microphone, others who are just grooving along.

Braitman is a sculptor and principal of Takoma Park’s Braitman Design Studio, which specializes in remodeling older homes. When she arrived in Washington in the '90s, she says, she knew little about Brown. 

In reading about him and talking with those who had known him or followed him, “I was enchanted,” she says. “I loved his music, the rhythms, the genre so evocative of music from Africa and the Caribbean, that whole call-and-response thing. I loved how approachable he was.” 

As she created her winning design, Braitman thought long and hard about Brown’s role in the DC community, of musicians and non-musicians alike, and of those who grew up with go-go and those to whom the genre – and the late Brown himself – is new. 

To the Greeks, Braitman says, “immortality was the degree to which you lived on in the memories of those who never knew you.” That principle also helped guide her work. 

In the artwork, “I wanted to capture this notion that you are drawn into the music and that the audience becomes part of the scene,” she says. Just like a Chuck Brown show, “it is as much about the audience as it is about the performers.” 

The sculpture also had to be “interactive and personal and fun,” she says. To that end, lights embedded into the sculpture will respond to visitors’ movements around it, even using the syncopation of “Wind Me Up” and other go-go standards. “The more people that are there, the faster the rhythm will be.”

As a visitor approaches the sculpture, lights in the sidewalk will flash. “You’ll get a different response [from the lights] when you step on the dance floor than when you step on the stage.”

But don’t expect musical notes or drumbeats. In response to community feedback, Braitman had to deliver a sculpture that would not actually make noise of any kind. Suggesting Brown’s music in light was a challenge she savored. 

“I had to make something that was going to be outdoors, something people would touch,” she says. “We needed something that would withstand someone skateboarding on it” – thought she doesn’t advise that. “We needed it to be made of materials that could take abuse and not show it.”

The Chuck Brown figure will be 16 feet tall – “larger than life,” just like the man it memorializes, says Braitman, who says she’s now friends on Facebook with some of the members of Brown’s extended family. While many of them were resistant to the abstract nature of the piece in its first iteration, Braitman says, the addition of a vinyl overlay depicting Brown, signage offering more information about his life and music and other touches have eased his relatives’ minds. 

The statue will be unveiled on August 22.

Read more articles by Amy Rogers Nazarov.

Amy Rogers Nazarov is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist with more than 25 years experience as a staff reporter and a freelance writer, covering technology, adoption, real estate, and lifestyle topics from food & drink to home organizing. Her byline has appeared in Cooking Light, The Washington Post, Slate, Washingtonian, The Writer, Smithsonian, The Washington Post Express, The Baltimore Examiner, The Sacramento Bee, Cure, The Washington Times, Museum, and many other outlets. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists & Authors and tweets at @WordKitchenDC.
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