Chinese Sculptor Picked to Carve Image For King Memorial

By Brett Zongker
Associated Press
Friday, February 16, 2007; C07

A master sculptor from China was chosen yesterday to carve the image of Martin Luther King Jr. for a memorial to the slain civil rights leader to be built on the Mall.

Lei Yixin, one of nine sculptors considered national treasures in China, will carve King's likeness in the memorial's 28-foot granite "Stone of Hope," officials said.

The sculpture, depicting a determined King with crossed arms, will be sculpted over the next year from a light beige variety of granite found in China's Fujian province.

Earlier yesterday, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts approved the sculpture's design and 14 quotations from King to be included in the memorial. The project, scheduled to be completed next year, will occupy a four-acre plot on the Tidal Basin facing the Jefferson Memorial.

Among the first quotations visitors will see at the center of the memorial is from a speech King gave Dec. 24, 1967, in Atlanta: "If we are to have peace on Earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."

Lei has carved sculptures of many Chinese national figures, including Mao Zedong, father of communist China. Several of his works are in China's National Art Gallery collection.

"Martin Luther King is well known all around the world. In China, everyone knows about him," Lei said through a translator. He said he remembers reading about King's "I have a dream" speech in school.

Architects with the foundation building the memorial found Lei at a stone carving symposium in July 2006 and said he was recommended by many of his peers.

"When I was assigned to the task, I felt tremendous pressure and responsibility," Lei said. "This is the most important project I have ever had."

Lei watched hours of video of King's speeches and said he was inspired by King's "passion in pursuing a dream and his faith in mankind." He completed a clay study model of the sculpture in about four weeks.

About $79 million has been raised for the memorial, which was authorized by President Bill Clinton in 1998; $100 million is needed for construction.