Saturday, September 10, 2011

Friday, September 09, 2011

Telescoping time ...

Attended the history-making unveiling of the Mario Chiodo sculptures in Henry J. Kaiser Park in downtown Oakland on Tuesday.  This was the first installation of what is a monumental work of art entitled, "Remember them; Champions for humanity."  When completed it will consist of 25 figures of those who have set the patterns for the best that we are as a nation and a world.

Among the honorees were in most cases descendants of those honored, added to by those still living.  Please go to Mario's website for the complete story and photos of the event.  The sculptures were inspired by the tragedy of September 11th and took ten years to complete.  The centerpiece stands 40 feet tall and will be installed during the first part of 2012.  I can hardly wait, having had a chance to visit his studio where the work is proceeding on schedule.

But -- can you believe these photos (taken with Shirley Butt's cell phone).  They were taken at the studio party after the unveiling ceremony.  The lovely young blond woman shown on the right is Juliana Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Franklin Delano and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Juliana's grandfather is one of the figures).  Above is Ruby Bridges -- shown in the monument as the 6 year-old courageous little girl who integrated New Orleans schools during the early days of struggle to integrate our public schools -- and under the protection of the National Guard, remember?  This drawing is from the Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover that inspired us all.  Here she is all grown up; an attractive, passionate, and articulate young woman who was in town not only to receive her honors at the unveiling, but to be present for the dedication of a bronze statue of herself that Mario created for the Alameda school that has been named Ruby Bridges Elementary in her honor!

... and here I am spanning the generations with these three iconic young American women.

... and that's not all.  The great American hero of Japanese descent, Fred Korematsu, who valiantly fought against the unjust internment of his people during WWII for which he received the Medal of Honor from President Clinton, and who is also one of the 25 figures -- has a beautiful social activist daughter, Karen Korematsu (seen here in red).  I felt surrounded by reflected greatness, and found myself wondering just how one shares such experiences so that they radiate out into the ether and enter into whatever it is that sustains us all?

So many generations since the time of their family ancestors (and me), but Chiodo managed with his magnificent sculptures to capture the essence of what it means to be human -- that potential for greatness which resides in each of us, and that -- for the most part -- lies dormant; untapped.  In an odd way, those giant figures -- though dwarfing those of us who stood in awe before them -- were extraordinary ordinary people -- their humanity made manifest not only in these great bronze images, but in the aura of their descendants as well, if only because we endowed them with inherited greatness.  In our quiet conversation, Juliana spoke with humility of how many years it took to ease her way into her iconic surname -- and that she has only recently felt -- not only the honor of being a Roosevelt -- but the heavy responsibility the name imposes.

Wish I were a poet at times like this.  But there is out there somewhere, a word artist or musician who will one day sit in the shadow of those stunning figures and give voice or notes and lyrics to what is beyond my ability to express; will marry their artistry to that of Mario Chiodo and the result will be magnificent beyond measure!  I'm certain of it.

And, most meaningfully, what is not extraordinary in Oakland and the Greater Bay Area is the fact that we were all together as equals in a social situation, something their illustrious ancestors could hardly have dreamed of.  During the time of Bridges, Roosevelt, Korematsu (only 70 years ago - less than my lifetime), I cannot imagine under what circumstances this would have been possible.   Regrettably, this probably can't be said for some parts of the country or the world still, but here -- in this place -- though unspoken, differences are no longer merely tolerated, but celebrated.

This brilliant sculptor, Mario Chiodo, has marked the place indelibly where this, above all else, is the living truth.