In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Roberto Clemente’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, sculptor Maritza Hernandez brought him back to life — plated in bronze. A life-size statue of the baseball icon was unveiled on Thursday in its new 25-acre home in Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx, NY. It is the first statue of a Puerto Rican famous figure to be constructed in the city.
Hernandez, who is the co-founder of a 30-year-old advertising agency based in Chicago, Hernandez and Garcia, by day, was present at the unveiling of the seven-foot-tall structure honoring Clemente’s most memorable moments in his baseball career — acknowledging fans after his 3,000th hit — along with the Clemente family.
“We are proud to present this statue as a gift to the Roberto Clemente State Park and to the City of New York, and we couldn’t have chosen anyone better than Maritza Hernandez to sculpt the statue of Roberto Clemente,” says Bob Unanue, President of Goya Foods. “We have known and worked with Maritza for over 20 years and her work as a sculptor is remarkable. She is incredibly talented, and it only seemed fitting to chose a Latina artist to construct a statue of one of the most iconic Hispanic role models.”
Hernandez, 61, says she is extremely honored to have been commissioned to do this project.
“Sculpture has been my passion all of my life,” says the artist, who immigrated from Cuba to Miami when she was 18, and later settled in Chicago. “I have done several other commissions such as Minnie Minoso — a famous baseball player who knew Clemente…It stands in the Chicago White Sox Cellular Field.”
She says her very first commission was the bust of Saint Josemaria Escriva — the founder of Opus Dei — because a doctor friend of hers happened to be in that order and recommended her. Since then, her sculptures have mostly been made of clay and then dipped in bronze.
“My grandfather was an architect in Cuba,” says Hernandez, who began experimenting with sculpture when she was a kid in Cuba. “I never was able to be an artist full-time, because I had to go to school and raise my daughter. I took master’s courses with renowned sculptors. It has been a beautiful learning experience. I’ve been blessed for having these commissions without being a full-time artist.”
She is especially proud to have worked the past few months sculpting the 3,000 pound statue of Puerto Rican-born Clemente.
“He was a great person on and off the field,” says Hernandez. “He was a great humanitarian who made a difference for all Hispanics. He had a great heart.”
In order to create the 3-dimensional design, she says she gathered and studied photos of the famed baseball player and read his biography.
“The more I learned about him, the more I could work on his expression and recreate him from that era,” says Hernandez. “Roberto Clemente had extremely big hands, which helped him in baseball. Roberto Clemente, Jr. had exactly the same hands as his dad, so I used his hands as a model…to get as close as I could.”