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Radcliffe Bailey, Proponent Of Black History Art, Dies At 55

Sculptor Radcliffe Bailey, known for promoting Black history through his art, died on Tuesday in Alabama.

His death was confirmed by his brother. Bailey had been battling brain cancer for many years. He was 55 years old.

Radcliffe Bailey was born in 1968 in Bridgetown, New Jersey, and moved to Atlanta when he was young. His father was a railroad engineer, and his family had been involved with the Underground Railroad that helped secretly transport Southern enslaved people to the North. During his childhood, Bailey visited the High Museum, where he once met the artist Jacob Lawrence; he also drew inspiration from his grandfather, a deacon at a Virginia church who built birdcages in his spare time.

As a teenager, Radcliffe Bailey pursued baseball; however, physical limitations put an end to that dream. A chance visit to painter Grace Hartigan made him pursue art instead. He also continued to cultivate his interest in traveling throughout his life.

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Throughout his career, Radcliffe Bailey built a reputation for exploring and exhibiting Black history – particularly slavery – in his sculptures. For this, he sought inspiration from everywhere; from African figurines to objects passed over generations in his own family. One of the most well-known works of his career was the 2009-11 installation Windward Coast. The work featured 35,000 piano keys and had a musical element to it. While his reputation spanned across the country, he was considered a local hero in the city of Atlanta. He was often described as the most prolific artist living in the capital city of Georgia.