ENCINITAS — Manuelita Brown recently completed a monument sign for San Dieguito United Methodist Church, her family’s home church for nearly 40 years.
This was a departure for the artist whose works are predominantly bronze figurative and portrait sculptures. Her subjects have included Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court, and Sojourner Truth, a former slave who later became an abolitionist and women’s suffragette.
“Manuelita has always valued Methodism’s rich history of outreach and justice concerns,” said Pastor Mark Feldmier. “When the concept of the new monument sign was proposed, we recognized the opportunity to highlight this history by incorporating into the design the cross and flame, Methodism’s trademark logo.”
He added, “Manuelita, with her extraordinary artistic talents and her long history of participation in the church, was uniquely suited to drive this project from design to completion.”
Being an artist and sculptor is a second chapter in Brown’s career. Graduates of San Dieguito and Torrey Pines high schools remember her as a beloved math teacher.
Brown was born in 1940, and raised in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Vienna, Va. This was a time in American history when Jim Crow laws mandated “separate but equal” for African-Americans in public facilities.
Her father, Armstead Morris, who collaborated with her on pastel illustrations to accompany stories he told and read, introduced her to art. Morris worked as a taxi driver in the nation’s capital.
“My father knew D.C. and took others to the art galleries,” she said. “He took us there, too, but you didn’t see African-Americans represented at the time.”
At 16, her father died, forcing Brown, her mother, and two younger sisters to move into the city. An honor student, Brown’s principal intervened by arranging for her to continue at Luther Johnson High School even though she no longer lived in the school district.
She graduated valedictorian of her class and went on to attend Virginia State College.
“I was told that I had a scholarship but found out later there was no such thing,” she said. “It was probably the principal who had something to do with it.”
A math major, she supported herself working in the math department. In 1960, after two years of study, she married classmate Willie Claiborne Brown.
Willie Brown, a regular officer in the Army ROTC, took a leave of absence to attend Oregon State University where he earned a master of science and Ph.D. degree in microbiology. And she earned a bachelor’s in mathematics, studying sculpture as an elective.
The couple moved to Cardiff in 1967 when her husband was offered an opportunity to do post-doctoral research at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation. He went on to become a professor of microbiology at UCSD.
Brown began teaching math at San Dieguito High School. When Torrey Pines opened she was recruited as head of the math department. She also earned an M.A. in experimental psychology at UCSD. Later she became director of the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services at the university.
During this time Brown enrolled in a woodworking class at night school and later studied life drawing and sculpture at community college. She also attended Scottsdale Artist School.
Around 1993 she was commissioned to make a bust of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall for the college that bears his name at UCSD. Two years later she received her first major public project, titled “Almas Del Mar,” a sculpture of a family of dolphins that span the length of the Westfield UTC Shopping Mall.
After retiring in 1999, Brown was commissioned to create a bust of African-American explorer Matthew Hensen, the first American to step on the North Pole, which is on exhibit at the James E. Lewis Museum of Art at Morgan State University in Maryland. She also created a bust of Dr. Howard H. Carey, president and CEO of the Neighborhood House Association.
Brown’s public art, and juried art and exhibitions, have been enjoyed by Americans from coast-to-coast.
The Browns have two sons, Marvin Brown of Encinitas, and Dr. Vincent Brown, a professor of American history at Duke University and Harvard University. They also have two granddaughters: Zareen, 7 and Anisa, 3.
For more information, visit manuelitabrown.com.