I’ve written before about Fremont, with its Troll and Billy Goats, and its homage to Casablanca, but there are many more landmarks in this Seattle neighbourhood. One of the most unexpected is a giant statue of Vladimir Lenin, casting an ominous shadow over the corner of N. 36th and Fremont Place North.
The 16 foot tall cast bronze statue is the work of sculptor Emil Venkov and it was originally installed in Poprad, Czechoslovakia in 1988. The following year the November to December Velvet Revolution brought about the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia and the statue was removed from Lenin’s Square and tossed into a scrapyard.
It was there that an English teacher by the name of Lewis Carpenter came across the statue, face down in the mud. He was stuck by both the artistry of the sculpture and the uniqueness of the portrayal of Lenin as a violent revolutionary, striding arrogantly out of a blaze of flames and guns, as opposed to the usual depiction of him philosophically holding a book or waving a hat. Carpenter bought the statue and shipped it back to Washington, but when he died in 1994 his family placed it in Fremont temporarily for viewing and for sale.
The statue is still acknowledged as a temporary fixture in Fremont, although it has been on view for the last 20 years. According to the Fremont Chamber of Commerce web site, it is a symbol of an artistic spirit that outlasts regimes and ideologies, and tangible proof that art does outlive politics. Nonetheless, it continues to evoke strong responses and provoke heated discussion. The day I took these photographs the statue’s hands had been symbolically doused in red.
The statue is still for sale according to nearby information placards. The last known asking price was $300,000. If someone does pony up the cash and Lenin is sold, what does that say about capitalism versus communism?
There is a story of a female tourist who went out of her way to visit the statue and was outraged to discover that it was of Vladimir Lenin when she had made the journey in order to see her hero, John Lennon. It was this story that came to mind last April 2nd as I was driving along Ballard Avenue. With my friend at the wheel and traffic bumper to bumper, I glanced out the window and spotted something rather extraordinary.
I had only a moment before traffic moved us along, but the brief glimpse suggested that Ballard was going to build a Lennon statue to rival Fremont’s Lenin. Now I’m all for a little neighbourhood rivalry and a big fan of John Lennon, so I couldn’t resist wandering back a little later in the week. Unfortunately there was no trace of the wooden Lennon anywhere; it had been an elaborate April Fool’s prank.
Still, if Ballard does decide to install a John Lennon statue, I for one will be full square behind them. If you’re in the neighbourhood next April 1st, take a walk along the avenue and let me know if you see anything out of the ordinary.