Friday, August 29, 2008

Meditation Restored

Community Comes Together in Phalen Park Unity Ceremony

The sculpture Meditation by Lei Yixin, created for Phalen Park during the 2006 International Stone Carving Symposium (Minnesota Rocks!) was horribly defaced on the night of Sarurday, July 12 in the midst of the annual Dragon Festival. Discovered just before dawn Sunday morning by Parks maintenance crews, the sculpture was quickly covered with a tarp in an effort to shield celebrants.

Public Art Saint Paul was called early the following Monday morning by a deeply saddened and sympathetic Joe Buzicky of Saint Paul Parks maintenance. As the owner of the sculpture, it was Public Art Saint Paul’s responsibility to clean the sculpture but we knew that deeper restoration of community was needed.

Saint Paul’s artist in residence Marcus Young considered this and formed the idea of a ceremony to clean the sculpture and help us all heal. Led by Young’s vision, Public Art Saint Paul, the East Side Arts Council, Payne Phalen Community Council, East Side Neighborhood Development Corporation and East Side Peacekeepers laid other work aside and devoted themselves over 3 weeks to plan this event. Nick Banovetz of Padilla Spear Beardsley offered his pro-bono public information services.

On Friday evening, August 15, a Unity Ceremony was held at Phalen Park. Attended by hundreds, it carefully revealed the crime. To the slow beat of drums participants viewed the defacement from within an enclosure; eyes were unshielded and wept in shock and grief.
Then, very carefully, the healing began. Romi Slowiak and Marcus Young presided over the ritual that began with the stories told by Evelyn Lee, Christine Podas-Larson and Peter Morales of the sculpture’s birth, of the artist’s long journey and hard effort; of the sculpture dedication’s joy turned to fear and sadness a year later; of the hope that fills our minds and hearts. Church bells of nearby Gustavus Adolphus church rang to end a moment of silence. David Harris and intoned our feelings of loss and hope.

Saint Paul City Councilmember Dan Bostrom declared that violence and expressions of hate are intolerable in our community and vowed renewed efforts to improve public safety and bring the community together in understanding and peace. Police Chief John Harrington spoke powerfully of the community’s values of tolerance and amity, stating the seriousness with which he takes words of hate.

Choirs sang: Li-chen Chen chanted a traditional Buddhist mantra, the African chorus from Arlington Hills Presbyterian Church, Minhua Chorus and the Hmong Youth Choir. Spiritual comfort was offered by Rev. Dodson, H. David Stewart from Dayton Avenue Presbyterian Church and Terrance Rollerson. Marcus Young led those gathered in singing America The Beautiful.

A message from the artist, written by him on the ceremony’s eve, was read by Ning Li.

A line of 40 people spoke their names and entered the enclosure to begin the cleaning. Using cloth gaffer’s tape under the gentle instruction of conservator Kristin Cheronis, they each applied it and…to their real joy, saw the blue metallic spray paint peeled off under their loving pressure.

Marcus, Aki Shibata and Kristin gathered these onto a piece of acetate shaped in a circle. Soon a new artwork evolved: From Fear to Fearlessness.

The enclosure for sculpture viewing at Phalen Park with Evelyn Lee and drummers from Mu Daiko. Among participants were Tina Plant from Minnesota Rocks! sponsor Hedberg Landscape and Masonry and Larry and Liz Englund who were at the stone carving symposium every day. Councilmember Dan Bostrom met before the ceremony with Police Chief John Harrington, Christine Podas-Larson and Marcus Young and with Chao Lee of the office of US Rep Betty McCollum.
Photos by Andy King and Linnea Larson.

The Restoration

The week following the Unity Ceremony, the sculpture was completely restored by a dedicated crew led by professional art conservator Kristin Cheronis. Working from dawn to dusk August 18 – 22, they used gaffers tape, steam, acetone, and tools as fine as scalpels and dental picks the paint was slowly removed.

Cheronis notes that the few traces of blue paint that remain will bleach out in the sun over the next year, so we must be patient. With a gift from the Prosoco Company, the sculpture was re-sealed with a protective coating. Saint Paul Parks and the Youth Corps planted rings of rose bushes around the sculpture to help deter future vandalism.

A generous grant from the Saint Paul Foundation and individual gifts supported the restoration.

Over 100 people have enlisted as the East Side Stone Sentinels, committed to stewardship of the sculpture.