‘Bah, Humbug’ Greets Statue Depicting Pioneer Family : Oregon Trail: Portland arts commission rejects bronze by nationally known artist that features rugged Bible-toting Christians. Panel terms it culturally insensitive, possessing little artistic merit.
The manifest destiny of a statue depicting a rugged pioneer family has created quite a dust-up.
The Oregon Trail Coordinating Council commissioned the $200,000 statue “The Promised Land” by nationally known artist David Manuel, and offered to donate it to the city. Manuel’s sculptures honoring the U.S. Marshal’s Service are displayed at the Justice Department and the White House in Washington.
He found no such appreciation of his work among members of Portland’s arts commission, which said the bronze statue featuring a Bible-toting Christian family to be culturally insensitive and of little artistic merit.
“The depiction of the subject matter was found to be an inappropriate and inaccurate representation of the settlers of Oregon, excluding the many other races and religions,” the arts commission said. “It is also insensitive to the history of the indigenous people of the area.”
Members of the trail council, created by Gov. Barbara Roberts, can’t figure out what all the fuss is about. They say their mission was to commemorate pioneer families who arrived on the Oregon Trail.
“We set out to do a memorial to the pioneers of 1843 . . . and that’s what we have, pioneers that made it in 1843,” said Joyce White, the council’s development director. “It was never intended to represent Native Americans that lived here, or blacks that lived here or the British or any of the other folks that were living here.”
She said the council has projects in the works devoted to other cultures, including a center that tells the trail story from the Indian perspective.
City worker Art Alexander demurred, telling the arts commission the statue represents a “whitewash of the truth.”
“A more appropriate statue might be titled ‘Receivers of Stolen Property’ and would depict laughing European-American men standing on Native American corpses with pieces of torn up treaties scattered about,” and carrying a sign warning that no blacks were allowed, he wrote.
Moreover, painter Bob Hanson of the Portland arts advisory committee assailed the statue’s workmanship, saying the hands on Manuel’s statue “look like a bunch of crabs.”
Manuel understands some of the concerns and said he would like to have represented other cultures in the statue, but was prevented by time and money.
It’s the belittling remarks about the work itself he can’t understand.
“It’s hard for me to understand that another artist would bombard me,” Manuel said. “My work speaks for itself.”
Other northwestern cities--as well as Independence, Mo., where the Oregon Trail begins--have offered to provide a home for the statue. But White said her group probably will appeal to the City Council to keep it in Portland.
Meantime, Manuel said he has been inundated with calls of support, which has made the criticism bearable.
“It bothered me a little bit but, hey, a few people have their different ideas about things,” he said. “You can’t please everyone.”