Sculptor Ed Hamilton said the late artist Zephra May Miller would announce her presence at his Louisville studio by jamming her fingers into the mail slot, wiggling them and announcing: “Bag Lady!”
Hamilton would respond in kind, wiggling his fingers over top of hers before opening the door.
“She started utilizing all these plastic bags in her artwork, shredding them and making dresses,” Hamilton said, explaining her nickname. “She ended up using so many, people would just give them to her.”
But Miller is perhaps better known in the neighborhood for a different art project.
Twenty-five years ago, Hamilton and Miller collaborated on a sculpture that became a local icon.
In late 1991, they completed a 12-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture that was erected at the dead-end of Lampton Street in Smoketown. It featured two boxing gloves overlapping to form a heart in the middle.
It was meant as a celebration of the spirit of the neighborhood, its historic link to boxing and the start of Muhammad Ali’s career with local trainer Fred Stoner.
The boxing glove sculpture was removed for a time due to construction at Sheppard Square. But on Friday, it was rededicated in a new central location in the neighborhood.
Residents came out in force to celebrate; there was dancing, poetry, storytelling and prayer.
Hamilton told attendees that when he and Miller created the sculpture, it was done with the input of the community. He said once they’d built a model of the boxing gloves out of cardboard, they called a meeting with residents.
“We were all sitting at a long table,” Hamilton said. “I put the model at the end, and this young man from the community bends down — level with it, you know? — and said, ‘Hey, it makes a heart!’ That was it.”
Hamilton continued: “It has so much power within this community because the people chose this piece. It wasn’t thrown down in their lap.”
Ruby Hyde lives in Smoketown and also studies the history of the area. She said as the population in the neighborhood changes with new housing at Sheppard Square and elsewhere nearby, the sculpture creates an opportunity for discussing that history with new residents.
“This will be like a library story for them,” Hyde said. “For the the children.”
Hyde also said she hopes the sculpture will inspire people outside Smoketown to look past recent episodes of violence in the neighborhood and recognize its intrinsic value.