Here’s the second post in the brief campaign to draw attention to three important artworks at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon – both of which are in need of attention, both for restoration and conservation.

The artworks are the two relief plaques facing the football field by Avard Fairbanks, and a life size sculpture of Jefferson by Karl Bitter. I wrote about the Bitter Jefferson last week, and you can read about it HERE.

See all three artworks at the Portland Public Art Photo Archive.

Avard Fairbanks was a painter, a sculptor and a graphic artist. He has several pieces in Portland and visited the city often. Best known is the mother with two children sculpture in Ester Short Park in Vancouver, and the relief of fire chief David Campbell. Fairbanks created the official insignia for Standard Insurance, a gold plate with an emblem carving. The plate is mounted at the front door of the downtown Standard Insurance Building. But perhaps his best-known work is seen almost everywhere and came with his long arrangement with Dodge – it’s his sculpture of a ram’s head which is mounted on the hood of every Dodge truck.

More about Fairbanks HERE.

The two Fairbanks reliefs are from 1925 and are made of bronze, which now has a bright green and black patina from oxidation and mild corrosion. Each is the same size, about 30 inches wide by 70 inches high, with a maximum depth of about 1.5 inches. I don’t know if they’re replications of other Fairbanks artworks, but the images are so striking it’s hard to imagine he walked away from them – either before or after.

The first is a image of death and resurrection, a memorial to the Jefferson boys killed in WWI. In the image, soldiers in gas masks lay low in their trench. One soldier stands, has taken off his gas mask and his jacket and is dropping his weapon. He is rising, guided by a female Hermes to Elysium. His comrades stare straight ahead, the eye plates of the masks opaque, their heartless duty ahead. It’s a terrible and powerful image – especially in light of our pointless war and on-campus recruiting.

Inscribed in the bronze is, “Dedicated to the Jefferson High School students who served in the world war. In memoriam.” And then a list of seven names of Jefferson boys.

The second artwork by Fairbanks at Jefferson High School is a bicentennial marker for the Corps of Discovery, showing Lewis & Clark, animals, a landscape and Indians.

Below the relief tableau is a bronze plaque on which is written, “In tribute to the intrepid explorers Lewis and Clark who saved the West for the United States. May the youth of the West offer to our country trained minds and high ideals.”

The minute and overlooked words of this plaque expose the grandiosity of history; how much has changed the just the past 80 years! How cleverly we have reconstituted Jefferson’s grand venture, and now reconsider the effects of what would later be called manifest destiny.

Between the two Fairbanks reliefs are two smaller plaques, just of words, remembering the Jefferson boys who fought and died in World War II and in the Korean War.

The content of all three artworks – the two Fairbanks and the Bitter Jefferson – are especially poignant – right now.

All three sculptures are in terrific need of help. Estimates from reliable local conservators have ranged from $5,000 to $10,000 to pay for these much needed repairs. If there is a local arts lover, a history enthusiast, someone who sees the continuing need for these bronze symbols, please step forward by contacting the PPS superintendent’s office at superintendent@pps.k12.or.us.

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