James Earl Reid

James Earl Reid is an artist, educator, sculptor, and curator, as well as a community and fine arts activist. In 1966, he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he studied under Joseph Sheppard.

“I knew that I really wanted to study with Joe,” Reid said (Legacy 2004). “The study of anatomy with Joe and the very intense study of drawing actually enabled me to make the transition from painting into sculpture. What I found in sculpture . . . is that the tactile relationship with the medium was important to me.”

Reid earned his Master of Arts in sculpture from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1970, and he taught there for 11 years, achieving the rank of assistant professor. Reid has also taught at Spellman College, Atlanta University, Morgan State College, Goucher College, and the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Reid obtained his first major commission in 1979 from the city of Baltimore to create a monument of the great jazz singer Billie Holiday. Since then he has completed numerous commissions for public sculptures, including a relief portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. for the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and Institute for Non-Violence in Poughkeepsie, New York; a dual relief portrait of Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass for Sojourner-Douglass College in Baltimore; and a portrait bust of Martin Luther King Jr. for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

One of Reid’s most powerful commissioned sculptures was Third World America: A Contemporary Nativity. Community for Creative Non-Violence, a nonprofit organization that assists Washington, D.C.’s, poor and homeless, commissioned this work in 1985. Reid donated his time to create the compelling sculpture, depicting a homeless mother and father leaning over an infant, cradled on top of a steam grate. The grate was designed to include machinery to produce steam and an inscription at the bottom of the piece read, “And there is no room at the inn” (Gunther 1985). “I want people to be moved by a level of humanity,” Reid told the Baltimore Sun (Gunther 1985).

“We’re dealing with a consciousness-raising issue. The plight of the homeless is critical. I don’t know what the answer is, but this is my contribution.”After the statue was completed, the Community for Creative Non-Violence attempted to assert that, as the commissioning organization, they controlled the copyright to Reid’s sculpture. The legal battle over rights to the sculpture went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Reid’s favor. The ruling set an important precedent in favor of the rights of freelance artists to retain their creative and intellectual property. “It’s a moral victory,” Reid told the Washington Post when the Supreme Court ruling was announced (Kastor 1989). “It reestablishes my control over the destiny of the work. I feel I’m released to go on and do the kind of things I’m supposed to be doing as an artist.”

In addition to creating commissioned sculptures, Reid has had eight solo exhibitions and has won many awards. His works are represented in numerous private collections and in the public collections of the Evansville Museum of Arts, Evansville, Indiana; Towson State University, Baltimore; and University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, Maryland.


Gunther, Katie. 1985. Homeless under the JFX inspired nativity scene. Baltimore Sun, 6 December, p. 1G.Kastor, Elizabeth. 1989. Artist wins in Supreme Court. Washington Post, 6 June, p. B1.The Legacy: a tradition lives on. 2004. Produced and directed by Joseph Sheppard. 35 min. Videocassette.

Third World America: A Comtemporary Nativity
Three figure sketches
Charles, Bronze, life size
Eve, Bronze, life size