Seattle George Monument

1989 • Seattle Convention Center, Seattle, WA

Diffraction grating, aluminum, steel, vegetation, wind. 28' x 12' dia.

In a poetic attempt to consolidate concerns of assertion and assimilation, Seattle George Monument simultaneously portrays Chief Seattle (originally Chief Sealth) and George Washington. The monument's base is a trellis, an open cube with a grid functioning as a curtain wall and a gazebo. A tripod supports a cone torso and the monument's head, twenty-four aluminum profiles of Chief Seattle fanned out to create an armature for English Ivy growing out of a Boeing 707 nose cone planter. A sharpened template will act as a wind vane, trimming the ivy overgrowth into a 360- degree evergreen bust of George. Eventually, as the vines cover the head, Chief Seattle will become a memory. The indigenous culture is figuratively a foundation upon which the present is an overlay. The cone and tripod suggest an inverted lodge, and at the same time refer to George Washington's work as a surveyor, with the cone becoming his plumb bob. The silhouettes were appropriated from their namesakes on the city and state logos.


The use of the term "monument" in this piece is a reference to the subtle survey markings as much as it is to monumental sculpture. Sandblasted into the plaza adjacent to the monument are references to two historical events in 1855. On the north/south axis is a reproduction of the first survey map connecting Seattle to the national rectilinear survey grid. This system facilitated the establishment of land ownership disregarding land forms and natural boundaries. The survey team embarked on the survey shortly after the signing of the treaty of 1855. Chief Sealth was one of the cosigners of the treaty. On the east/west axis is a sandblasted portion of Chief Sealth's famous speech given at the time of the signing. The text is in Lushootseed, the written language of the Salish. The gazebo is aligned parallel with the north/south Willamette Prime Meridian, although the adjacent built environment is askew. The interface of the vines growing on the grid of the gazebo suggests reconciliation of the surveyed grid with the landscape.


As a monument to man's manipulation of Nature, the sculpture in itself attempts the same. The impending topiary shearing of George Washington's bust is not assured. Failure to manipulate the English Ivy does not prevent this piece's success. Nature inevitably does not do what we plan or predict. The topiary realization of George's head is only a transition or a fluke in an artificially sustained sylvan landscape atop Interstate 5. A mechanical watering system meters out water like clockwork onto the sculpture and the adjacent landscape. If this man-made landscape is interrupted by disease, neglect, or change of aesthetic sensibility, the armature, Chief Seattle, will be re-revealed, reaffirming Chief Sealth's quote:


At night when the streets of your cities and villages

will be silent

and you think them deserted,

they will throng with the returning hosts

that once filled and still

Love this beautiful land.

The white man will never be alone.

Let him be just

and deal kindly with my people

for the dead are not powerless.

Dead did I say?

There is no death.

Only the change of worlds.

© 1989 Buster Simpson

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