On 9/11, Remembering Sculptor Michael Richards (MA ’91) and The Work He Loved Best

Michael Richards was in his sculpture studio on the 92nd Floor of World Trade Center Tower 1 on the morning of September 11th, 2001.  An acclaimed artist, he was likely doing what he loved best — working on a set of sculptures dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen — when the first hijacked plane slammed into the tower.

Richards, 38, who received his master’s degree in NYU Steinhardt’s studio art program, was the subject of many exhibitions in the United States and abroad.  At the time of his death, he was among fifteen artists awarded a residency in studios at the Twin Towers from World Views, a program sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

NYU Steinhardt alumnus Michael Richards (1963-2001) standing beside Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastion (1999). A work in his series about the Tuskegee airmen, it shows a pilot pierced with model airplanes.

As a Jamaican-American raised in Kingston, Richards found sustenance in the poetic ambiguity of all human experience.  His work was described as a synthesis of the 1970’s Black Arts Movement and the multiculturalism prevalent in his formative years as a student and artist.  While his sculpture employed culturally-loaded symbols such as hair, tar, and feathers, his primary medium was bronze.

At the time of his death, Richards was working on a sculpture depicting a Tuskegee airman riding a burning meteor.  Fellow NYU Steinhardt alumnus and Tuskegee airman, the late Roscoe Brown Jr. (MA ’49; PhD ’51), thought of Richards as an artist whose gifts made his story part of the American experience.

“I am proud that the exploits of the black airmen provided so much inspiration for his creativity.  In his all too brief lifetime, Michael captured the challenge and triumph of black men seeking to conquer the skies,” Brown said.