A new sculpture downtown depicts the three Grand Rapids women who helped develop the whooping cough vaccine.
The Grand Rapids Community Legends Project donated the sculpture the honoring researchers Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering and research assistant Loney Clinton Gordon, who developed the pertussis vaccine in an under-resourced public health lab in Grand Rapids in the 1940s.
The vaccine is credited with saving millions of lives worldwide.
“Adulation: The Future of Science” by former Washington National Cathedral sculptor Jay Hall Carpenter stands outside the Michigan State University Grand Rapids Research Center, at 400 Monroe Ave. NW.
Revealed last month, the statue depicts the three researchers standing in a group holding a petri dish and microscope. Close by, figures of two children representing the future generation of scientists stand in admiration of the women, holding a bug jar and magnifying glass.
The women stand seven feet, with director Kendrick in the center, flanked by Eldering and Clinton Gordon, an African-American chemist who isolated an especially virulent strain of pertussis, allowing the team to develop an even more effective vaccine.
“This is a globally significant story — and it played out right here in Grand Rapids,” said project founder Peter Secchia, who commissioned and donated the sculpture to Michigan State University.
“These dedicated researchers saved millions of lives, and their work can inspire the next generation of scientists. These are the kinds of stories that are so important to tell through the Grand Rapids Community Legends Project.”
The sculpture contains 1,400 pounds of bronze and took one year to complete, according to Carpenter. It was sculpted in Maryland and cast at a foundry in Colorado.
“All of the jewelry was re-produced from photographs of jewelry the women wore,” Carpenter said. “It’s set in 1944, the first year the three women worked together.”
The group is not disclosing the cost of the project.
The sculpture is the 11th and “most ambitious” commissioned by the Grand Rapids Community Legends Project. All the sculptures have been donated to public, nonprofit and educational institutions across the community.
This is Carpenter’s third commission for the project and 605th public sculpture over his four-decade career.
Plans for the next commission are underway but have yet to be announced.