Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ed Hamilton grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. Hamilton graduated from the Louisville School of Art (formerly known as The Art Center School). During the same year, he became a member of the Louisville Art Workshop, a group of African American artist/mentors. Hamilton attended the University of Louisville and Spalding College, then spent a few years as an art instructor. Meanwhile, he became a studio assistant to sculptor, Barney Bright and after accepting small commissions of his own, Hamilton established a fulltime studio in 1976.

Portrait Bust of York

Portrait bust of York, (2003) by Ed Hamilton
In 1803, a small expeditionary group was given the mission to explore the uncharted West of the United States. President Thomas Jefferson called the group the “Corps of Discovery,” led by Jefferson’s secretary, Meriwether Lewis, and Lewis’ friend, William Clark. William Clark’s manservant, known only by the name York, was an integral part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The expedition traveled thousands of miles until they reached the Pacific Ocean four years later. Hamilton’s York Memorial is one of fifteen official sites of the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The monumental portrait sculpture of York stands on the Belvedere in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, gazing toward the Falls of the Ohio River, where the group assembled before their departure for St. Louis.

As the designer of the Booker T. Washington Memorial, commissioned by Hampton University in 1983, he became known as the maker of monuments. Hamilton’s artwork goes beyond mere likenesses and compares his research to that of an actor assigned to portray a character. One of his most noted public sculptures is The Spirit of Freedom (1998), a memorial to black Civil War veterans in the historic Shaw neighborhood in Washington, DC. Most recently, Hamilton created The York Memorial (2003); located on the Belvedere in downtown Louisville, Kentucky honors the African American manservant who was a vital member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and The Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park (2009) in Louisville.

A desire to interrogate identity, led Hamilton to create a series of works on paper. The final work in this series, Hamp, (1996) by Ed Hamilton incorporates photographs of the artist’s father, Edward “Hamp” Hamilton, Sr. The first depicts a young man posed stiffly in WWI military uniform and the second an image circa 1930s presents a confident relaxed man wearing business attire. The juxtaposition of these images underlines the passage of time and their repetition suggests ritual remembrance. In the epilogue of 2006 his autobiography, The Birth of an Artist, a Journey of Discovery, Hamilton reveals another discovery, the fact that, in his late 50s he learned that had been born to a single mother and raised by adoptive parents. Therefore, Hamp is a reminder that the bonds of affection and family endure beyond the circumstances of birth.