Illuminating Philly’s First Sculpture Honoring an African American

Catto statue

This month, the City of Philadelphia will reveal a statue of Octavius V. Catto, a Philadelphian whose advocacy and activism in the 1800s led to change for African Americans in both Pennsylvania and across the country.

The 12-foot bronze statue, which will stand at South Penn Square, east of the south pavilion entry of City Hall, is the city’s first-ever public sculpture honoring an African American person.

The Lighting Practice was tasked with designing the lighting for the statue of Catto, created by artist Branly Cadet. Catto’s figure stands before a stainless-steel ballot box resting on a table and a backdrop of interpretive boxcar pillars. The primary focus of the lighting is on the statue of Catto himself. Pole-mounted spotlights highlight the detail in the sculpture and isolate the human form from its surroundings. Additional pole-mounted lights illuminate the box, while inground asymmetric linear uplights highlight the engraved text and the surrounding boxcar pillars.

The design invites the public to engage with Catto’s words while drawing them to a previously unused space on the south side of City Hall. Al Borden and Chris Hallenbeck strategically placed the pole-mounted fixtures outside the sculpture area and inground fixtures within it, so the space and sculpture are not visually or physically interrupted. As a result, the public is free to walk through the space unobstructed.

The installation, called A Quest for Parity, alludes to two of Catto’s successful public campaigns: one to desegregate Philadelphia’s horse-drawn streetcars, and another to move Pennsylvania to ratify the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race or “previous condition of servitude.”

As part of a year-long education initiative, the city’s National Constitution Center will also educate the public about Catto’s achievements and activism as a student, educator, writer, speaker, and principal of the Institute for Colored Youth. Excerpted below is a recent article about the upcoming sculpture unveiling and a few details about Catto’s life and legacy.

The team at TLP is proud to be a part of this important moment in history.


Coming Soon: Philly’s First Statue to Honor an African American | August 2017

Amidst a heated national and local debate over monuments, Philly will soon unveil its first public sculpture honoring an African American individual: civil rights activist and educator Octavius V. Catto.

The city won’t reveal Catto’s statue outside City Hall until late September. But on Thursday, the National Constitution Center will host the first event of a year-long initiative aimed at raising public awareness of Catto.

Born in 1839 in Charleston, South Carolina and raised in Philly, Catto was a student, teacher and principal at the Institute for Colored Youth, where he delivered a commencement speech in 1864 that addressed the Civil War and racial inequality in school systems. Throughout his life, Catto fought for emancipation beside Frederick Douglass, sought the desegregation of Philly’s trolley car system and established the city as a major hub for black baseball players. On Election Day in October of 1871, he was tragically shot by Frank Kelly, an Irish man, while he was walking to the polls.

Read the full article in

Rendering by The Lighting Practice
Model developed by OLIN based on Branly Cadet design

Portait of Octavius V. Catto (Public Domain Image)