Lenin versus Lennon

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.

vladimir lenin statue, Emil Venkov, Fremont, Seattle, Washington, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

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.

vladimir lenin statue, Emil Venkov, Fremont, Seattle, Washington, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

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?

vladimir lenin statue, Emil Venkov, Fremont, Seattle, Washington, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

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.

John Lennon statue, Ballard, Seattle, Washington, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

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.

About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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27 Responses to Lenin versus Lennon

  1. pommepal says:

    Controversial or not I think that the statue is an amazing work of art

    • ailsapm says:

      Absolutely, pommepal, and an incredibly bold piece too, considering Venkov’s portrayal of Lenin in such a light when the work was commissioned by communist governments.

  2. Mike Lince says:

    How typical of Funky Fremont to erect a hoax statue of Lennon, whether as a prank or a statement. Somehow, the spirit of the neighborhood dating back to the 60’s (when I lived there) has clung to its quirky roots in spite of the gentrification of the surrounding areas. Thanks for a fun look at this iconic neighborhood. – Mike

    • ailsapm says:

      Hya Mike, funky Fremont is the perfect name, I love that neighbourhood – although it was Ballard that put up the wooden Lennon statue – Ballard’s got the funk going on too! 🙂

  3. loisajay says:

    this post was the best! The Lenin statue is truly remarkable and the Lennon ‘statue’ is so intriguing. Great photos.

  4. What a great story. These small histories of life are the most interesting!

  5. Humor_Me_Now says:

    It is easy to see the controversy being sparked here.

    This was a very interesting post.


  6. Jet Eliot says:

    I liked your anecdote, and the statue is stunning.

  7. cool post, ailsa …a tale of two Lenins/Lennons, eh? I prefer the latter myself.

  8. sueslaght says:

    The red hand evokes a powerful image and reaction.

  9. colormusing says:

    I lived right around the corner from Lenin a few years back. I loved him! Art should provoke.

  10. Gunta says:

    Lenin was such a monster, killing millions of his own… it’s a bit hard to stomach a statue of him. I think the metaphor of him tossed in the scrapyard was a whole lot more appropriate.

    • ailsapm says:

      Many people think the statue should have been left there to be used for scrap. There was huge controversy when the statue was first brought to Washington State.

  11. vastlycurious.com says:

    I find it difficult to see Lenin and his blood Red hands yet how proud Emil Venkov must have been. Wonder if there was payment made. I much prefer your story about John Lennon and hope it comes to fruition !

    • ailsapm says:

      Indeed, it is a piece that brings out hugely differing reactions – distaste for the subject but admiration for the artistry. Give me Lennon over Lenin any day.

  12. Another great post. Love your header photo.

  13. For someone who only saw the Lennon statue for a moment; great capture!

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