DETROIT (AP) — “The Fist” is getting fixed up. Work began Wednesday on Detroit’s massive sculpture of the arm and hand of heavyweight champion Joe Louis.
The 24-foot bronze “Monument to Joe Louis,” known to many simply as “The Fist,” is displayed downtown, not far from the arena also named for the famed boxer who moved to Detroit as a boy and is a hero in the city.
Crews are performing minor structural work, cleaning the surface and replacing the cables that suspend the 5,000-pound sculpture. The stainless steel cables need to be replaced every 10 years, since “they stretch and they become fatigued,” said John Cummins Steele, the conservation director for the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The monument, sculpted by the late Robert Graham and given to the DIA in the 1980s by Sports Illustrated magazine, is one of the first things many motorists see when they enter the city’s downtown district.
“People love the sculpture. They love visiting it, having their picture taken by it,” Steele said, moments after a worker in a lift snapped a photo of the piece from his elevated perch. “It’s actually commemorating Joe Louis, but it also, I think, symbolizes Detroit toughness. We can live through anything. We can rise from anything.”
Some have criticized the sculpture, saying it is emblematic of violence in Detroit, but many view it as an important landmark — not only because it represents a hometown champion, but because it is seen as an assertion of black political power and triumph over injustice.
Louis, who was black, was considered one of the greatest heavyweight fighters. He famously knocked out Germany’s Max Schmeling for the title in 1938. The first-round victory, heard by a nationwide radio audience, not only avenged Louis’ loss to Schmeling in a 1936 nontitle bout, it countered Adolf Hitler’s belief of Aryan supremacy.
Associated Press writer David Runk contributed to this report.
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