Portland Statues

Portland Oregon



Emmanuel Frémiet

First up, wow, my eyes, Joan of Arc.

Joan stands in a circular park in the middle of the Laurelhurst subdivision, Coe Circle, NE Glisan and 39th Street. Get within about 500 yards and you won't have any trouble locating it. Bring two pairs of sunglasses.

This Joan is one of a number of copies by French sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet, modeled in 1889, the middle of the French statuomanie when so many statues were being erected in Paris that Degas wanted to put "iron wire around the lawns of public gardens to prevent sculptors from depositing their works therein".

"Coe" is for Henry Waldo Coe, who donated the funds for this statue and at least two others on this page. Coe made his money running the largest privately owned asylum in the United States, at 102th Street a couple of blocks south of Stark, with a federal contract from the Department of the Interior to import patients from Alaska. Many of those patients were natives. You're looking at some of that federal money, right here.

Joan is easily the most sophisticated figure on this page. Totally convincing as a human presence, flawlessly modeled, instantly recognizable by posture and body language as a militant religious fanatic, wonderful to look at, on a cloudy day, with good eye protection.




Gutzon Borglum

Before Gutzon Borglum flung his titanic ego against Stone Mountain in Georgia (beginning 1915, abandoned 1923) and then Mount Rushmore (beginning 1924) he'd been a fair painter and a very good sculptor. More than either of those he was a genius careerist, an aggressive and slippery character who got as close to a household name as anybody named "Gutzon Borglum" could possibly get.

Gutzon was born in Idaho in 1867, son of a polygamist woodcarver and a woman he (the father) later disowned. At some point around 1905 Gutzon saw that his younger brother Solon had a good career going as a sculptor, and Gutzon said, "I'll have what he's having." Despite his European education, New York City architectural commissions and a Connecticut address, he recast himself as a rough-and-ready westerner when it suited him. In his Stone Mountain years he was a good friend to the Klan, but not in public -- and so on.

His subject here was Harvey W. Scott. According to the inscription, Scott was a "Pioneer / Editor / Publisher / Molder of Opinion / In Oregon / and the Nation". Longtime editor of the Oregeonian, he was also a librarian, customs official, publicist for the Northwest, active Republican, and Indian fighter. Not at the same time, although that's fun to think about. They weren't multi-tasking yet.

This statue dates from 1930, twenty years after Scott's death, so Borglum would have worked from photographs. Possibly this one. I really like the way his coat contains and conceals his bulk, making his figure more geometric, easier to scan, and less obviously tubby. Also like the way he's both heroic and fussy. It's all in the shoulders.





Karl Bitter

Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson High School

It's amazing and encouraging to find a real live Karl Bitter here in Portland, in a condition of borderline neglect, nearly forgotten. It's not obvious here, but Bitter probably had the biggest reputation and the largest amount of sheer ability of any sculptor on this page. It deserves its own page (coming soon).




Alice Cooper

Sacajawea (and Pompey), Washington Park

There were more American women sculptors in this period than you might expect. For some reason many, or most, of them passed through Lorado Taft's University of Chicago studio. One group of eight of them called themselves "The White Rabbits" because when Taft was desperately trying to crank out work for the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago, asked Daniel Burnham if there was any trouble using female assistants, and Burnham said, "Hire anyone, even white rabbits, if they can get the work done."

Cooper wasn't a Rabbit but she studied under Taft in Chicago and at the Art Students League of New York. This is her single best-known piece. Millions of people saw it in person, as the centerpiece of the entire Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905. (President of the Exposition? Harvey Scott. Also exhibiting at the Exposition? Solon Borglum.) While the statue was veiled by an American flag, ceremonial speeches were given by none other than a flinty, elderly Susan B. Anthony and Eva Emery Dye, fellow suffragist and the person primarily responsible for taking the brief references of the historical Sacajawea and weaving them into this completely fictional, straight-nosed, dark-eyed, copper-skinned "Madonna of her race." During the expedition, see, Sacajawea had been given a vote about whether or not to winter at Fort Clatsop. It kind of makes sense. If you don't think about it too much.

Dye also implied that Sacajawea's gesture was pointing the way for America's involvement in Asia. So Cooper's statue was presented in this messy context of gender and suffrage politics, native American politics in the Northwest, and Teddy Roosevelt-era imperialism. What her guiding gesture indicates about the future of Indians circa 1905, I'll leave to you. There's an excellent article on that topic.

On top of all that, after seeing the re-located Sacajawea in Washington Park, around 1920 or so, one Arlene B. Nichols Moss of St. Louis began a campaign under the Daughters of the American Revolution to design and build the 12 Madonna of the Trail statues idealizing the pioneer woman. Whether or not that was a friendly gesture I'll also leave to you.




Pompeo Coppini

George Washington, NE 57th Street and Sandy

I think of Coppini, with affection, as a Texan. He was born in Moglia, Italy, in 1870, made it to Texas for a job with a monument company in 1901, and stuck around. For the facade of the San Antonio Express News in 1926 Coppini posed six semi-nude San Antonian high school students as figures of Labor, Education, Knowledge, Enlightenment, Truth and Justice. Truth is naked, of course. The finger of Knowledge points to Texas on a giant globe.

More seriously, Coppini sculpted all the figures on the Alamo Cenotaph, many freestanding statues in Austin and around the state, another Washington statue in Mexico City (not a copy of this one), and this image of "Atomic Power" dating from 1950 now at the Institute of Texan Cultures:

Note the wings. And the bombs. And the hair. And Coppini himself.

Washington here is as noble and high-minded and boring as ever. That impression is probably aided by his dislocation from another site, possibly Washington High School, to presiding over this grassy triangle on Sandy.





George Berry & Thomas Laman

For contrast, take a good look at this Benjamin Franklin statue in front of Franklin High School. It was produced by the Oregon Art Project, WPA, 1942. It's chiseled, right there.

It faces north, a dubious decision. All the other dubious decisions, like Franklin's half-and-half costume and the ovine look on his face, you see for yourself. The public sculptures and murals produced by the WPA and the TRAP (Treasury Relief Art Program) are being rediscovered and romanticized these days, which is great. It's easy to forget that some artists were unemployed for good reason.





Olin Levi Warner

Skidmore Fountain, SW 1st Avenue between Ankeny & Burnside

As a civic landmark, transit stop, and meeting place for Portland's so-called-legendary Evil Drunk Santa Brigade or whatever it is, the Skidmore Fountain is well loved and comes with a lot of civic lore attached. There's an entire book written about it, it was rudely envied by certain easterners as if Portlanders didn't deserve it / wouldn't appreciate it, somebody offered to pump beer through it instead of water, etc.

More interesting is its location, under the Burnside Bridge. It's next to the freshly renovated headquarters of Mercy Corps, where employees can observe the homeless bathe and battle in the fountain out their windows, if they like.

These bronze Beaux-Arts maidens are two chaste and dutiful examples of an entire species, native to France, imported to the American east cost, rare in the Pacific northwest. Warner went to school in Paris from 1869 to 1872, and was in the first generation of sculptors to transplant the Beaux Arts style back to the United States. He was killed in a bicycle accident in Central Park at the age of 52.





Roland Hinton Perry

So why is there a stag standing around in downtown Portland?

Not exactly sure.






Alexander Phimister Proctor

Proctor gives us T.R. on horseback, standing in the park blocks directly in front of Pietro Belluschi's original Portland Art Museum building.  This dates from 1922, three years after T.R.'s death and really late for any remaining Beaux-Arts or City Beautiful sentiment.  The war had happened in the meantime.  So this is a pretty straightforward uninspired commemoration-political-glamor job.

And it's another gift from Coe using his Morningside money, forcibly warehousing Alaskan natives out on the east side in exchange for a fat Department of the Interior contract.  That sounds awfully cynical.  I apologize.  

Proctor was a Canadian-born sculptor best known as a Western-style animalier (sculptural animal specialist) (and yeah, that was a job category back then) and reportedly met and "formed a lasting friendship" with Roosevelt when they were both running around North Dakota in the 1870s.  That totally sounds like factually careless and stale 1920's public relations copy that's been repeated and repeated until considered true.  That sounds awfully cynical.  I apologize.  






Hermon Atkins MacNeil

Multnomah, Washington Park

Rather than a single figure standing still and simply vibrating with nobility, like Coppini's Washington, waiting to be admired, MacNeil developed a narrative here.  It's a dramatic-comic vignette with a couple of paragraphs of exposition baked into the composition and authentic details, and it's an indication of the sophistication of sculptural modeling around this point.  There's a narrative.  

With one glance, merely from body type and body language, you can tell the roles and relationship of these two characters, one commander and one advisor.  There's a remarkable political humanity between them, and the dress and props suggest another paragraph or two about their standard of living.  Like a lot of MacNeil's work it's helpfully labeled, self-explaining, and repays close attention.  

Like Alice Cooper's Sacajawea, standing nearby, the suggested narrative packs a lot of complicated simultaneous regard and regret for native Americans circa 1900.  This dates from 1905.  MacNeil was a major sculptor with a major studio, an alumnus of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1890, returned to America to tackle inherently American themes, trainer and husband of other major sculptors.  Like the Elk this was funded and donated by the family of David P. Thompson.  





Play us out, Joan. With another look at those golden haunches.



Copyright 2010 Walt Lockley. All rights reserved.