You could say Baltimore sculptor Alvin Pettit has drawn closer to his own higher calling in his new project honoring famed Maryland abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Pettit will create nearly a 15-foot clay sculpture to sit permanently in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall. Expected for completion in the summer of 2025, Pettit said he took influences from his Baltimore upbringing when designing the Tubman statue when the City of Brotherly Love put out a call to artists.

Born in Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Tubman is revered for escaping enslavement in 1849 and becoming a conductor on the Underground Railroad. She faced extreme risk when she returned multiple times to lead 70 African Americans to freedom before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Out of about 50 artists nationally, Pettit was selected for his 18-inch model design titled ‘A Higher Power,’ that will feature Tubman standing on top of a Confederate flag as the “oppressive” obstacle that she conquered, he said.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“The reason I call it ‘A Higher Power’ is because I show her with her battle and military gear in which she’s seldom seen in,” Pettit said. “And I show her with her arms in a premium position, because even though she’s fully locked and loaded, with her gun and a pistol, she’s not using any of those. She’s actually calling on a higher power to her to get her through her own obstacles.”

Pettit, a 53-year-old who grew up in the city’s Ashburton neighborhood, was infatuated and creating comic books as a child.

In the early ’80s, he received his formal training at the Maryland Art Institute, Baltimore’s School for the Arts and Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts.

“I was a big comic book fan and collected comic books. And I started doing that early on, and I would draw superheroes and make up my own superheroes. ... And when I went to college in New York, my original ambition was to actually become a comic book artist. But then I was exposed to a lot more museums, art from different periods in history, and was exposed to different mediums and different genres of art and the fine arts,” Pettit said.

“I quickly realized I didn’t like sitting at a drafting table for panel art. I quickly moved more into large scale paintings and sculptures because I like the physicality of it,” he added.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But the action poses and the heroic stances in Pettit’s depiction of Tubman are influenced by his love of comic book art.

Though it’s shut down now, Pettit recounted going into a church affiliated with his former elementary school, St. Michael’s on Wolfe and Lombard streets, and seeing a statue of an archangel. It was where he drew the inspiration to place Tubman atop the granite block her small frame, yet militant pose, he said.

Baltimore sculptor Alvin Pettit is creating a 15-foot statue of Maryland native and abolitionist Harriet Tubman. The artwork will stand in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall.

“I grew up in a time in Baltimore where I didn’t have the privilege of seeing people in public art that looked like or represented me or other African Americans, or just any kind of diversity. And so, I feel passionate about the fact that, you know, I get to help now add to the narrative of telling the story that is just now starting to be told in public art about African Americans,” Pettit said.

Pettit will spend six months using an oil-based clay to begin the sculpture, but other materials will include a steel armature and carbon foam to carve all the detail into clay. Once the molds are completed, another six months will be needed for the sculpture to be cast in bronze before it will be placed atop a granite base in front of City Hall.

“To be commissioned for a figure as audacious as Harriet in Philadelphia, which is obviously one of the oldest cities ... when we talk about the founding of the country, that’s even more of a like a shining star on it, because she’s going to be right there in such a historical city where there are many monuments all around that tell the story of the founding of the country ... That’s pretty significant to me,” Pettit said.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

This story has been updated to correct the number of enslaved people Harriet Tubman led to freedom.