Statue of Lenin, Seattle
|Statue of Lenin|
|Dimensions||5 m (16 ft)|
The Statue of Lenin in Seattle is a 16 ft (5 m) bronze sculpture of Communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, by Bulgarian sculptor Emil Venkov. It was completed and put on display in Czechoslovakia in 1988. The statue was taken down following the Velvet Revolution of 1989. It was bought in 1993 by an American, who moved it to Washington in the US. Since 1995 it has been up for sale and on display in an outdoor retail property in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.
Commission and construction
The statue was constructed by Bulgarian sculptor Emil Venkov (1937–2017) under a 1981 commission from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. While following the bounds of his commission, Venkov intended to portray Lenin as a bringer of revolution, in contrast to the traditional portrayals of Lenin as a philosopher and educator.
Venkov's work was completed and installed in Poprad, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), in 1988 at a cost of 3340000 Kč, (equivalent to $190,000 in 2017), shortly before the fall of Czechoslovak communism during the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Despite popular belief, the Poprad Lenin was not toppled in the demonstrations during the fall of communism. Instead, it was quietly removed from Lenin's Square, in front of Poprad's main hospital, several months after the Velvet Revolution.
Sale and move to Seattle
Lewis E. Carpenter, an English teacher in Poprad originally from Issaquah, Washington, found the monumental statue lying in a scrapyard with a homeless man living inside the hollow statue. The Lenin statue was waiting to be cut up and sold for the price of the bronze. Carpenter had met and befriended the sculptor, Venkov, in an earlier visit to Czechoslovakia. Carpenter's initial interest in buying the statue was to preserve it for its historic and artistic merit. Later he intended to use it attract customers for an ethnic Slovak restaurant he wanted to open in Issaquah.
In close collaboration with a local journalist and good friend, Tomáš Fülöpp, Carpenter approached the city officials with a claim that despite its current unpopularity, the sculpture was still a work of art worth preserving, and he offered to buy it for US$13,000 (equivalent to $20,000 in 2017). After bureaucratic hurdles, he signed a contract with the Mayor of Poprad on March 16, 1993. The Mayor then began to reconsider, and asked the City Council vote on the sale. After they voted to approve it, the Poprad council reconsidered, and asked the Slovak Ministry of Culture for its blessing, which they gave four more months later.
After final approval to buy and move the statue out of the country, Carpenter consulted with both Venkov and the architect who had overseen the original casting of the bronze before deciding to cut the statue into three pieces and ship it 1,500 mi (2,400 km) to Rotterdam, and then on to the United States, all of which ultimately cost US$40,000 (equivalent to $70,000 in 2017). Carpenter financed much of that by mortgaging his home. The statue arrived in Issaquah in August 1993, and Carpenter planned to install it in front of a Slovak restaurant. He died in a car accident in February 1994, during public debates on whether to display the statue in Issaquah that ended in rejection from the suburb's residents. After Carpenter's death, his family planned to sell the statue to a Fremont foundry to be melted down and repurposed into a new piece. The foundry's founder, Peter Bevis, sought to instead display the statue in Fremont, and agreed to have the Fremont Chamber of Commerce hold the sculpture in trust until a buyer is found. The statue was unveiled on June 3, 1995, at the corner of Evanston Avenue North and North 34th Street on private property, one block north of a salvaged Cold War rocket fuselage, another artistic Fremont attraction.
The owners moved the statue two blocks north to the intersection of Fremont Place North, North 36th Street and Evanston Avenue North in 1996, adjacent to a Taco del Mar and a gelato shop. The new location is also 3 blocks west of the Fremont Troll, another Fremont art installation situated under the Aurora Bridge.
The statue of Lenin became a Fremont landmark and object of curiosity, representing the quirky nature of the artistic neighborhood, whose motto is Libertas Quirkas, freedom to be peculiar. Like the Fremont Troll and the Waiting for the Interurban sculpture, the Lenin statue is often decorated, appropriated, or vandalized with various intentions, both whimsical and serious.
Knute Berger, acknowledging that "we are supposed to be amused" by the "hippie whimsy" of a Soviet symbol in the middle of an American city, said that seeing the statue can not help but remind us of the killing and repression Lenin inspired. But Berger reflected that perhaps the meaning of this Soviet relic is the opposite, that it is "a trophy of Western triumphalism", representing the victory over communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. By removing the statue from its original context where it was meant to keep the Slovak people in awe, given a new context where it oppresses no one and is used entirely in the service of free enterprise and profit making. Berger goes on to compare the Lenin statue with Native American totem poles, so many of which were once on display in the city that they became a "symbol of Seattle". Some of Seattle's most iconic 'totem poles' (actually Alaskan Tlingit carved house posts) were brazenly stolen from an Alaska village by respected members of the scientific and business community, the Harriman Alaska expedition, so immersed in the triumph of their own culture over that of Native Americans that little thought was given to what Dr. Robin K. Wright of the Burke Museum called "a very clear case of theft". Berger said the story of victory of one culture over another told by the totem pole, or the Lenin statue, make it "an icon, but if you know the story, a complicated one."
A glowing Soviet-style red star or Christmas lights have been added to the statue during the holiday season since 2004. For the 2004 Solstice Parade, the statue was made to look like John Lennon. During Gay Pride Week, the statue is dressed in drag.
Zygimantas Pavilionis, envoy to Washington D.C. from Lithuania, referred to the events that unraveled in Ukraine in 2014 by saying, "In Seattle, I saw that ugly monument to Lenin there" and warning that "one day [the residents of Seattle] [would] wake up and instead of 'Go Huskies', [they] [would] instead see Russian license plates on military vehicles in their city." The BBC highlighted Seattle's Lenin statue after protesters removed Lenin statues in Ukraine.
The statue's hands are often painted (and repainted) red to protest the perceived glorification of a historical villain that supposedly has blood on his hands. The Taco del Mar restaurant, one of the retail property's tenants, constructed a monumental-scale burrito wrapped in foil for the statue to hold, which one Fremont publisher said did not turn out as intended, but rather "looked like a doobie."
In June 2017, the statue's sculptor, Emil Venkov, died at age 79. The Association of Slovak Artists noted the loss of an artist whose long career helped define Slovak monumental and architectural sculpture, creating works distinctive for their subtext.
Alt-right media have held up the example of the Fremont Lenin statue to protest the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials in the US. On August 16, 2017, in the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia Unite the Right rally, pro-Trump Twitter conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec led a gathering of several protesters at the statue to demand its removal. The same day, Mayor Ed Murray said his office contacted Lake View Cemetery to "express our concerns" about a Confederate memorial there, and asking for its removal. On August 17, Murray added that he believed the Lenin statue should go as well, because we should "not idolize figures who have committed violent atrocities and sought to divide us", and saying that the Lenin statue was also on private property. In the following days, a city staffer told The Washington Post off the record that the Seattle City Council is considering debating a symbolic resolution on removing the Lenin statue and the Confederate memorial, though the city government has no power to remove either against the wishes of the owners, since neither monument, nor the properties they are on, are city-owned.
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- Story of the Statue of Lenin, Fremont Chamber of Commerce
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- Berger, Knute (April 2011), "Icons we could do without", Crosscut.com
- Wright, Robin K. (November 19, 2015), How did totem poles become a symbol of Seattle?, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
- Mapes, Lynda V. (August 27, 2005), "Tlingits bring a story full circle with posts for Burke Museum", The Seattle Times
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- MacKenzie, Jean (March 12, 2014). "Fears Of A Russian Takeover Likely Unfounded". Mint Press News. Retrieved March 14, 2014.
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- "Zomrel významný sochár Emil Venkov", Aktuality.sk, June 9, 2017
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- Murray, Ed (August 16, 2017), Mayor Murray statement on Confederate monument in Lake View Cemetery, Office of the Mayor, City of Seattle
- Hahn, Elisa (August 17, 2017), "Mayor Murray calls for the removal of controversial monuments in Seattle", KING-TV
- deGrandpre August 19, Andrew, "In Seattle, people are protesting monuments to the Confederacy — and communism", The Washington Post
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