The likeness of a local hero has been repaired and restored.
A vandalized statue of Tuskegee Airman and longtime Winter Park resident Chief Master Sgt. Richard Hall Jr. outside the Hannibal Square Heritage Center was been fixed — much to the relief of local residents who hope the repair will bring healing to the community.
The patching process was finished a little over a week after the Cinco De Mayo weekend, when an unknown person struck the statue and created a large gaping hole in the abdominal area of the fiberglass statue. Police were contacted early Monday, May 6, after the damage was discovered.
Hannibal Square Heritage Center Manager Barbara Chandler said she was thankful to see the statue repaired.
“I just feel like having it done as quickly as possible was the best way to just put one aspect of it — the visual aspect of it — behind us,” Chandler said.
The likeness of Hall was created by Florida artist Rigoberto Torres, who was commissioned by the Crealdé School of Art in 2015 to honor the World War II hero. Casts were made of Hall’s physical features to create the statue, which has sat on the porch of the Heritage Center ever since.
The work to repair the statue was set in motion after the incident — the Hannibal Square Heritage Center reached out to Torres to see if he could patch up the hole.
“It bothers me a lot, because when I worked with Mr. Hall in real life casting him, he became my friend and a family member,” Torres said. “He’s a family member in my heart. For somebody to (vandalize the statue) … it was really hurting my heart all night when I heard about it. That piece is like one of my kids — I can’t leave it like that.”
Torres filled the statue with additional expanding foam to help bolster the structure of the statue, after which he crafted a new piece of the statue out of epoxy putty to cover the hole. The statue was then sanded down, cleaned and repainted, giving the piece a refreshed look. Supplies for the repair will be paid for by a donation fund raised through Crealdé School of Art. A couple hundred dollars has been collected so far through private donations, and the city of Winter Park and two private arts and cultural foundations have volunteered to help as well, Crealdé School of Art Marketing Manager Nicki Drumb said.
“The community stepped up once again — not just our local community but the extended neighborhood and cities around us,” Chandler said. “They offered donations to help with the figure. A lot of people were offended by this; a lot of people were offended that someone intentionally damaged or vandalized the figure that’s outside.”
Although grateful for the repairs to the statue, Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Central Florida Chapter member Darrell Gray said the vandalism broke far more than some fiberglass.
“We’re here to talk about the dignity, honor and respect of this man — what he stands for and who he is,” Gray said. “There’s damage to the man and what he represents and this community. It’s not just an art piece that was damaged. This community was damaged.”
Hall, who lives nearby in Maitland and is still a member of Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Hannibal Square, is one of about 996 African-American pilots and 15,000 ground personnel who served in the U.S. Air Force’s all-black units during World War II — the first in the nation’s history.
The “Red Tails,” as they were known because of the red tails on their planes, were the first African-American aviators in the United States military. Hall and the other soldiers reported to Tuskegee, Alabama, to receive their training. From there Hall joined the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Composite Group, which included the 99th Fighter Squadron and the 617th Bomber Squadron.
In the interest of helping to keep the statue of Hall safe, the Hannibal Square Heritage Center plans to install surveillance cameras outside the building, Chandler said.