Memorial


Two modern sculpture gardens face other on either sides of the National Mall in Washington DC, the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden and the National Gallery Sculpture Garden, both offset by the under-appreciated National Archives and the highfalutin Hirshhorn Museum. In the National, David Smith, Joan Miro, a stable Calder, a macho Mark di Suvero, and annoying optical illusion by Lichtenstein, and a dozen others.

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X (above) by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen from 1999, in the DC context, is the most fun. Made in 1999, to the average Washingtonian it is almost an abstract image of a red wheel with with blue stalky hair. I asked a nearby pre-adolescent to identify the subject – just baffled. He wasn’t certain what a typewriter is, less this item of ridiculous scale. But in context, across the street from the National Archives, they might still use these things, and perhaps at a ridiculous scale.

Not exactly a forgotten artwork, but a quickly forgotten joke. There are spaces available for future works in this garden – perhaps Oldenburg and van Bruggen could update with a giant delete key with Karl Rove’s fingerprint on it.

If you want to skip to the good stuff, DC Memorial and Monuments seems a comprehensive catalog of outdoor artworks in the District. DbKing has created a great Flickr collection of DC sculptural art – many with helpful side comments – and a great tour of the Adams Morgan District.


In 1873 successful Philadelphia sculptor and craftsman Joseph Bailly created a stern bronze of John Rawlins, aid de camp to Ulysses S Grant and his Secretary of War.

Born in France in 1825, Bailly also was creator of a royal Franklin for the interior of the Philadelphia Public Ledger Building (seen at right), an elegant George Washington, located outside the Philadelphia City Hall, and a very large bronze of John Witherspoon, also in Philadelphia.

Like Grant, Rawlins organized an infantry to join the War Between the States, and found a place at Grant’s side through thick and thin, becoming a trusted and firm adviser during Grant’s dark days of drinking. Later when traveling to dry climates to stave off tuberculous, Rawlins founded the city of Rawlins, Wyoming (below, circa 1960).

The Rawlins sculpture above is both formal and slightly surreal, on a high granite pedestal overlooking a rectangular pond in Rawlins Park on E and 18th Streets NW. Cast from a cannon Rawlins captured, the artwork shows his heavy uniform; holding field glasses and a walking stick, a wet wild beard (look at that beard!), a potent correct posture, his high wide gaze.

At the west end of the Mall are two (at least two) underestimated artworks, overwhelmed by their context and proximity to greatness. In my opinion, Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the most important artwork of the 20th Century. Visiting is a transformative experience. simple, straightforward, accessible to visitors of all ages and cultures, a memorable scar. You see it first from afar and therefore choose to walk toward and into it, often amidst a queue of tourists. Two 246 foot long polished black granite walls point to the offset Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, creating a swirl of questions and conflicts as you enter. Try holding back tears as you read the names. What a loss, what a waste. In the center you stand back and suddenly see your own reflection offset by the thousands of names cut into the shiny black surface. The image of yourself, surrounded by tourists and ghosts lingers, and changes your mind.

More from Maya Lin – Confluence Project, and AIA 25 Year Award.

Glenna Goodacre, LTD created the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, sheltered in a grove of trees 60 yards from Maya Lin’s masterpiece, to help remember the 265,000 women who volunteered to serve in Vietnam. Goodacre, who designed the Sacajawea dollar coin, has a Portland connection. A copy of her full-size bronze of the guide for the Corps of Discovery, carrying Jean-Baptiste, is at Lewis & Clark College. It’s very nice.

Goodacre’s sculpture is potent: four giant figures at eye level, reachable, touchable. Instead of seeking guidance from Lin or honorable memorials on the Mall, Goodacre takes off in the panic of war: a black soldier is splayed out, half dead from a chest wound, his eyes bandaged, mouth open. He’s held up by sandbags and a desperate nurse holding down the wound. Another nurse watches the sky, waiting for the sound of helicopter rotors. A third crouches low, contemplating a damaged helmet.

The memorial is accessible, intriguing, emotional, powerful within it’s context of the panic of war, the danger, the grief. Tourists are drawn in, many leave flowers often set in the open hands of the figures.

At the opposite, southwest side of the National Mall is the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial hosting far fewer visitors, but welcoming them with perhaps the saddest, most succinct inscription on any memorial, remembering another pointless war. The components, only loosely tied together, include fountain, landscaping, architecture, sculpture, and several forms of inscription. The 19 figures on patrol are also rendered by committee, and by Vermont artist Frank Gaylord.


Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.

Wisconsin Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Oregon Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Montana Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Florida Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Kansas Korean Veteran’s Memorial
Texas Korean Veteran’s Memorial

Advertisements

Readers of this blog know it has a penchant for memorials for the dead and the near forgotten. Visits to the Oregon State Hospital, Oregon’s forgotten WW II memorial, and the Lone Fir Cemetery (which really aren’t comparable, you’d be so lucky to have the Friends of Lone Fir sweeping your gravestone someday) have been blogged here.

Ronald and Donald, died March 17, 1952.

Another forlorn spot is the Columbian Cemetery off Columbia Boulevard in North Portland.

See a web site created by the nice people trying to keep up with the brambles – the Families of Historic Columbian Cemetery. Looks like the local Boy scout troupe did a big clear out in March. Yikes! Check out their CafePress stuff.

They’ve got a sexton list, gravestone photos, and some biographical info. In the lexicon of sadness, we need a new word for gallant but hopeless historical preservation efforts.

On a July visit the dandelions were knee high, and local vandals had kicked in the door of the toolshed and knocked over a dozen headstones. The I-5 highway thundered overhead. But in the stillness of the cemetery nothing but honeybees moved.

Secluded at the rear of the garden is the baby graveyard.

From visiting dozens of similar pioneer cemeteries, I estimate there are several hundred children buried here – with about thirty remaining headstones and four or five remaining wood markers.

Stone is used for headstones due to fires, but dozens of shingle markers remain, washed clean by decades of rain. The rows of hedge cover most of the area. Markers surround the roots.

Baby Schaffer – died 1852.

The purpose of art is to evoke a strong, meaningful feeling; to articulate the impossible, to touch the void. Reverse this formula and things which evoke strong meaningful feelings, etc. are art. A place, a pill, a 10,000 foot plunge.

Baby Beaver, died October 1, 1952.

The strong meaningful feeling of this place is pain and suffering, incalculable loneliness, loss and emptiness. These feelings are the tendrils of ghosts, soaked into the soil. Powerful magic swarms around this place, hot, still and humming with bees.

Baby Chambers, died June 1949.

This tiny ceremony has been lost for two reasons I think – 1. birth control and abortion are legal, 2. the angels at Emanuel Neonatal Intensive Care Unit can keep almost anything alive. They are amazing grace.

Baby Melby, died January 1958

When you’re worn down by your bleak existence, when you’re against the wall, pressured, slightly stunned or sick, the tonic is to step off the ledge.

Go alone. Ghosts are shy. These ones are shy, small and weak. But go sit in the grass and wait. These aren’t the ghosts of stories or Hollywood, no – more seductative and instructive. They slip in your ear and wrap themselves into your memories.

See all the Portland Public Art photos of the Columbian Cemetery in the super PHOTO ARCHIVE.

Oregon Cemetery Info + Death Index

Oregon Historic Cemeteries Association

Multnomah County Tombstone Transcription Project

Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries


Maya Lin: her name prompts superlatives. She of the Vietnam memorial, at all of 21 years old. How did she do it? As public art, her DC memorial is a complete success, by far the most popular attraction of its sort, bringing all to tears and men who survived that crazy war to their knees. A supreme triumph. Perhaps the most important artwork of the 20th Century.

But original? Nope. Portland’s forgotten memorial to Oregon veterans of World War II uses the same motif (all names solemnly carved in looming black marble) and was dedicated in 1961 – when Lin was a toddler.

Our memorial is located at the Memorial Coliseum (get it?) on a discreet lower level, off the beaten path so thousands pass within yards and never see, never know, never experience. The names of hundreds of Oregon men (and perhaps some women) who died in the war are cut into the stone. Ten feet tall and forty feet long, this elegant memorial stands alone, with a pretty tinkling fountain, and will soon, forgotten and unprotected by various veterans groups, be bulldozed with the rest of this obsolete building.

Lin’s memorial is more dramatic. It’s location on the mall, 50,000+ names going on and on, the walkway filled with weeping tourists. Both the memorial, and its environment are worth the visit. But after you’ve seen Oregon’s main WWII memorial (there are a couple of others), you won’t think Lin’s memorial such a giant leap.

To find Oregon’s WWII memorial, stand at the outdoor ticket booths in front of the Coliseum. There is a downward stairwell to your right. Follow and look and find.

There are Oregon memorials to just about every other imperialist war we’ve finagled ourselves into (and some ambitious artist should be considering the future potential of our current fiasco.)

Oregon has two Korean war memorials, one located on Mt Scott at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland. This cemetary contains over 100,000 veterans. The other is in Salem. Neither are very interesting. Our Vietnam memorial is particularly banal, tho its hills are good for rolling down in the summertime.

What will protect this mural?

This public artwork is located on the South face of the American State Bank on Martin Luther King Blvd and about Knott Street, in NE Portland.

A rare insight from a writer with the Portland Mercury describes the ACB interior in 2000. Formerly Albina Community Bank – I think – this building is currently empty and out of business. According to the Metro Murals database of Portland’s mural artwork (our city’s most accessable public arts database! Whew!) it was made by Paul Gilbert in 1999, and is 8′ by 25′, 200 square feet.

I haven’t discovered much about the muralist Paul Gilbert. I think the mural was made at the same time as the adjoining Gladys Sims McCoy Memorial Park was created to recognize McCoy, former Multnomah County Chair and longtime civic leader. The park was built by the neighboring American State Bank.

It uses a flat naive’ style with a rollercoaster perspective to show a banker welcoming customers and a band playing in a park. It’s got that content-by-committee feel to it. It’s nice, but bland and unremarkable.

The question of maintainance comes if two criteria are met – and I am not sure they are in the case of this nameless mural. With the bank closed and the building for sale or lease, the artwork does not have an internal protector. So does the community love it, cherish it, need it, remember with it, value it sufficiently to make it a unspoken requirement of owning it (possessing it along with the building)? I don’t get a sense of this. The McCoy Memorial, I assume, has the protection of both the McCoy family and the county or city, but this mural, both a extravagent commercial remainder and a reminder of the Albina boosters who launched the Albina Community Plan (see below). And then the harder question, does it qualify as art, a thing by its sheer creation and existance sufficiently convincing to secure and protect as a community treasure?

No. I think this mural fails both questions, and will be lost in time to renovation. Sad? I don’t think so. That it’s surroundings are also dreck isn’t a sufficient argument, and there are far to many other public artworks of great value which need protection and care.

Gladys McCoy, Portland Public Schools Board member from 1966, County Commissioner form 1979, and County Chair from 1986. Gladys and her husband Bill (a state legislator) also are remembered with McCoy Park on N. Woolsey and the McCoy Community Garden on Fessenden.

The Albina Community Plan was as much a process as a plan, a process to capture the acceptance of a community to rennovation. (All of the following documents are pdfs and slow-loading.)

See History of Portland’s African American Community (1805 to 1993).

See History of the Albina Plan Area.

See Albina Community Plan Process – 1990

See Albina Community Plan Design Guidelines – 1993

Walt Curtis showed me her name, Hazel Hall, under the table at Satyricon, a literary dope deal, he shrugged and sniffed and riffed off about “Oregon’s Emily Dickinson,” waving his arms mad street professor style.

That was a strong scene of lively active mad poets, churning out real stuff and bringing it downtown. The folks would come out too. College students and slumming intellectuals drinking beers and taking notes. Doug Spangle would MC if Walt couldn’t find his way, making a list and welcoming all with smiles and a hardy hi ho. Bad George and Elizabeth Bolton and Don Chambers – all now passed on, Dan Raphael, Liz Woody, Chris Chester, Philip Minthorn, Leanne Grabel, Sandra Williams, Ed Edmo, Bill Johnson, David Elsey, Harold Johnson, all these Portland Poets.

Light Sleep by Hazel Hall

Women who sing themselves to sleep
Lie with their hands at rest,
Locked over them night-long as though to keep
Music against their breast.

They who have feared the night and lain
Mumbling themselves to peace
Sleep a light sleep lest they forget the strain
That brings them their release.

They dream, who hold beneath the hand
A crumpled shape of song,
Of trembling sound they do not understand,
Yet love the whole night long.

Women who sing themselves to sleep
Must lie in fear till day,
Clasping an amulet of words to keep
The leaning dark away.

Hazel was definitely one of the Outsiders – though not by choice. Born in 1864, an young invalid, she spent her days on the second floor of her family’s home in NW Portland, writing letters to friends real and imagined and gazing out her window.

See Catherine Daly’s Blog for reviews of several Hall texts.

Susan Mach, in 1990 wrote Monograms, a short play based on Hall and her sister Ruth.

The Oregon Book Awards, a clubby backslapping black tie affair, has recently renamed their prime poetry award from the “Hazel Hall Award” to the “Williams Stafford and Hazel Hall Award” merging Hall with a inferior poet. Yuch. They have some event coming up next week but I forget where and when. No amount of direct mail will improve my memory.


Devotes cadged the state to recognize her with the small and tidy Hazel Hall Garden, adjacent to her home, on NW 22nd between Burnside and Everett. Visit and look up. You’ll see the trees Hazel watched through her window.

Cemeteries are delightful places to visit, filled with memories of happy lives. The Lone Fir Cemetery is Portland’s oldest with over 20,000 people buried there. It’s a peculiar gallery of landscape and solemn artwork. The dead like to be visited, nice to have anyone trundle past, brush aside leaves, set headstones straight, wonder. Yes, there are ghosts, plenty of stories forgotten, names rubbed away by rain. This cemetery has certainly had worse days. It’s neighborhood friends have done well recently, tidying, clipping, trimming – and now the county + Metro are demolishing & paving.

After much discussion, the county is removing an ugly office building thoughtlessly set over the early 20thC Chinese plot. The county plans a memorial of some sort for the Chinese community. Not for the Insane Asylum inmates.

Local scholars of madness consider this spot (under this access road) to be where inmates from the Oregon Insane Asylum are buried. Dr. James Hawthorne, owner of the asylum, had a careful arrangement with the original owner of Lone Fir to bury inmates without family members or friends.

For the inmates no marker remains, no reminder, almost no one remembers. No memorial, no art. A list of patient names was recently put online and a small, semi-private museum showcases Dr. Hawthorne and his work at OHSU. Dr. Hawthorne is buried with his family under one of the more handsome pillars just over the hill. Yes, yes, the street and the bridge, etc. It’s Portland history.

Vandalism has taken and takes it’s toll. Many cut and molded sculptural bits have been broken off to add character to some drunk punk boudoir. In the early 20th century the lots were left the the brush and brambles. Thousands of wood markers were lost in brush fires and chewed by squirrels. Surviving sexton records are haphazard. Who would have thought anyone would care out here in the future?

There are new markers in this old cemetery.

Some came a long way.

Some were lost at sea.

Some arrived too soon.

Some look plain pleased to be here. Note the NHRA logo. For you undereducated ones, this is the National Hot Rod Association. Looks like this dude thought ahead.

James and Elizabeth Stephens have schooled gothic lovers for generations, “Here we lie by consent after 57 years 2 months and 2 days sojourning through life awaiting natures immutable laws to return us back to the elements of the universe of which we were first composed.” Ya that’s the stoic Oregon spirit. His smile, her roses, together forever.

Veterans from several wars are buried and remembered here with memorials, the 1846 Mexico war, US civil war (for the Republicans), the Indian wars from 1846 to 1856, and the Spanish-American war. A high granite pillar, topped with a bronze soldier, vigilantly staring into the trees. Three hundred yards away, tucked under a leafy oak, a veteran of a more recent but forgotten war.

It’s a rich experience, dipping into a city of the dead. You can feel the spirits fluttering about, most forgotten and faceless, see them for a moment skirt behind a bush or stone, their mortal memories spilled over the seasons and lost, no ancestors to cut the grass or wash away the moss, no one to remember, no one to ponder, no one to grieve.

I spent a couple of hours today with a former principal of Roosevelt High School, Don James. He’ll be dead in a couple of days.

I was making a portrait photograph of him in his apartment. As we talked I learned his history. I told him I had just taken a self-guided tour of Roosevelt a week ago. At the time I thought I was just killing time or looking for old memories (I didn’t leave any there before, so.) I took pictures of the memorials to Roosevelt students who wandered off to war over the decades.

I really didn’t know why I had gone there until I talked with Mr. James. I think he was really jazzed talking about his time at Roosevelt. He’s a lovely man, very serious but not heavy: considered and decided about his future.

He’s been a lot of things in his valuable life, but his great joy is his partner of almost 60 years. What an accomplishment.

Next Page »