Alumna works on ‘The Embrace,’ Boston’s tribute to MLK Jr.


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“The Embrace” was revealed in the Boston Commone this past MLB Day to commemorate Dr. King in the city of Boston

Caroline Moran, Crier Staff

Just a month ago, on Jan. 16th,  Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed. However, honoring Dr. King started sooner than that this year with the installation of “The Embrace,” a bronze sculpture by Hank Willis which was installed on Boston Common back in December 2022. The sculpture, commemorating Martin Luther King Jr., was created not by Willis alone, but with the help of a Saint Anselm alum. 

Samantha Giarratani, an ’08 graduate of Saint Anselm, had the honor and privilege of working with artist Hank Willis on the sculpture. Her experience in art started long before this sculpture, as she uses what she learned from Saint A’s every day. 

Giarratani graduated from Saint Anselm with a degree in Spanish and a Certificate in Fine Arts, and she has been able to use her skills “across languages, vernaculars, disciplines, professions, social classes, academia and trades,” she said. She also puts her Fine Arts certificate to good use, as she “used her art history textbook from [her] class with Professor Bentz to teach high school art for 6 years,” Giarratani notes. 

Giarrattani’s art experience has flowed from inside the classroom to outside of it, landing her a role in working on the Embrace sculpture. She met Willis “while volunteering as an art ambassador for the Greenway in Boston,” Giarratani added, which exposed her to a lot of contemporary and temporary public artworks that were in the park. This volunteer work made her appreciate public art, because “the most interesting conversations happened when people came to talk to me about what they thought about the work” she said. 

Another volunteer experience is when she began working with Willis back in 2016. Giarratani and a co-volunteer friend jumped at the chance to volunteer for “The Cause Collective” who “wanted to know Boston’s truths” she said, and the Greenway (which she had previously volunteered for), was providing the volunteers. There she met Willis and Will Sylvester, the two founding members of The Cause Collective. She has been working with them closely and has managed all of Willis’ public works ever since. 

Working with Willis has been an immensely formative experience for Giarratani. With all of the years of experience working alongside him, Giarratani said that “working with Hank is like working with family at this point…I see myself working with or alongside him for the rest of my career”.

The project for “The Embrace” began in 2018, and when Giarratani applied to work on the project, she explained that she “was tasked with seeing the proposal through, and was the point of contact to collaborate with architecture firm MASS Design Group to put it all together”. Not only was she in charge of the specifics in moving the proposal forward, she also “helped ideate, research, design and present the concept that would later become ‘The Embrace’.” 

After years in the making, the sculpture was finally installed in Boston Common in December 2022. The bronze sculpture depicts four intertwined arms, those of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. It represents the hug the two of them shared after King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. 

The location of the sculpture is important to the meaning of the sculpture, as Dr. King and his wife, Coretta, met each other in Boston. Not only was Boston their meeting point, but it is also home to the country’s first public park. Giarratani reflected on the importance of the location, as she explained “I know how fraught and fractured the city’s relationship is to its residents of color. I felt and saw the segregation, and how little the city, and I,did personally to stop it”.  

Giarratani is hopeful and optimistic of the sculpture’s impact, as she said it would “mark this connection…so future generations would know and never forget that the two most important civil rights leaders met and began their journey here”. 

For those who haven’t had the chance to see the sculpture, Giarratani is undoubtedly sure the work will inspire America to move toward equality, justice, and freedom. As Giarratani puts it, “the feeling of kindness and respect [at the park] is so palpable you can almost taste it.” This, she believes, “is how culture changes; starting so local and making it personal.”

The art’s inspiration is more than just a representation of historical figures to Giarratani. To her it is “warm and full of life…saying, ‘hey, we know we have a horrible past, so let’s learn from it. Let’s do better.”A brilliant piece of architecture can say so much; that art comes from so many perspectives, and the city is willing to embrace all of it. 

If you haven’t yet found yourself in Boston, it’s encouraged that you make the trip to see the sculpture. “It’s meant to be experienced, to be viewed and in the round,” Giarratani said. The piece is certainly bound to inspire all who see the work that Giarratani is immensely proud to have been a part of.