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Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial which is located on the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC on a late fall day, a day with an especially deep blue sky. The Tidal Basin, an artificial lake, has cherry trees around the lake and many people stroll along the lake during the cherry blossom festival each spring. Although I have visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial a few times during this cherry blossom season, it was a different but quite touching view of King’s statue as a huge stone on a lonesome fall day.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was built and dedicated in 2011 to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. who advocated for civil rights in a peaceful way, especially for the advancement of black rights in American society. King celebrated the 100th year of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 with the issue of black human rights, which began in the mid-1950s, and delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech. He emphasized unity and equal rights beyond race, which gained considerable support and prompted change in American society. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, but was assassinated in 1968. Martin Luther King's work was not simply evaluated as an effort to improve human rights for blacks because he was black, but all humans must be respected as human beings. We value his efforts to remind us of human’s equal rights, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
In the United States, the third Monday of January is celebrated as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In elementary school history classes, students look back on King's work and even hold art contests or writing contests based on his achievements on this day. In addition, the “I Have a Dream” speech has been memorized by several students in a relay manner, sometimes in front of the Lincoln Memorial where King delivered the speech, to reflect on its meaning.
The memorial of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most striking figures in American history, is located mid-way between two big memorials: the memorial of Thomas Jefferson, a founding author of the Declaration of Independence, and the memorial of Lincoln who wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. The design of the memorial should reflect the meaning of his work and among numerous applications, the design of the ROMA Design Group, which actually embodied the main part of King's speech was selected. The design has an appearance of pulling out middle section from a large stone mountain, and this is based on the part of King's "I Have a Dream" speech: “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” At the entrance of the memorial, there is actually a huge granite mass that can be described as the “THE MOUNTAIN OF DESPAIR”, with the middle section being cut out, allowing visitors to enter the memorial through the two remaining masses on either side. The surface of both cuts seen through this passage is engraved with scratches and scrapes, which express the difficulty of the process.
Inside the memorial, which is entered after passing through the mountain of despair, lies a stone of hope which lies amid the mountains of despair. Scratches are also carved on both sides of this large 30-foot stone, and the Martin Luther King’s standing figure is carved as a high relief in the front. Arms folded, King holds a speech in one hand, has a stern expression on his face, and looks at the Tidal Basin in front of him. Made from 150 granite blocks, this sculpture was made by Lei Yixin, a Chinese sculptor. King's appearance is very similar to those seen in images and photographs, and the appearance of part of his body buried in a large stone reminds me of Michelangelo's unfinished sculpture, “A Slave called Atlas (about 1520-30)”. In this sculpture of Michelangelo, the slave's body, partly carved out of a stone mass, impressed me with its weight of bondage and I was thinking that it might be similarly expressed that Martin Luther King himself, engraved in the Stone of Hope, was in a situation to improve, which had not yet emerged.
On the 450-foot long black granite wall that encircles the memorial, 14 famous phrases of Martin Luther King's speeches and sermon are engraved. Inside of the memorial following the mountain of despair, we look back on our lives by reading his legacy. My life as an Asian female living in the United States in 2019 has not had such a huge mountain of despair which other minorities had experienced more than 50 years ago – I attribute this to the historic sacrifices of the generations who preceded me. Of course, there is still need for improvement, and constant effort is required. President Obama's keynote speech at the 2011 MLK Memorial dedication ceremony challenges us to think and to takes a step forward in affirmation: “Our work is not done. And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles. First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick. Change has never been simple, or without controversy. Change depends on persistence. Change requires determination.”

World War II Memorial: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

The World War II Memorial, located in a straight line connecting the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, was completed and dedicated in 2004. The war started in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and the United States of America entered the war after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1941. The United States dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945, leading to Japan's surrender and end of the war.
Korea, then a Japanese colony, celebrates August 15, 1945, the date of Japan’s surrender as an Independence Day. Although Korea would have a painful division later, it must be a war with an important influence on Korea’s history. For the United States, World War II was a war in which six million American soldiers served, more than 400,000 of whom sacrificed their lives.  In spite of this fact, everyone knows that World War II is not necessarily remembered as a sad part of America’s history because this war is credited with helping to end the Great Depression and contributing to the recovery of the U.S. economy.
Despite the important historical weight of the war, it is surprising that the Memorial was not built until 2004, almost 59 years after the end of the war. As if recognizing the late commemoration, the World War II Memorial is built near the east end of the Reflecting Pool, making an exception to a previous law that prohibited construction at the National Mall, which connects the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. At the announcement stone at the entrance of the memorial, this justification of the location is clearly explained: HERE IN THE PRESENCE OF WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN, ONE THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY FATHER AND THE OTHER THE NINETEENTH CENTURY PRESERVER OF OUR NATION, WE HONOR THOSE TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICANS WHO TOOK UP THE STRUGGLE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR AND MADE THE SACRIFICES TO PERPETUATE THE GIFT OUR FOREFATHERS ENTRUSTED TO US: A NATION CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY AND JUSTICE.)
Among more than 400 memorial design applications, Fredrich St. Florian’s design was selected in 1997. The memorial, which has an overall oval design, centered on a Rainbow Pool with a large fountain reminiscent of a park. Two 43 feet (13m) granite arches are built on the north and south sides, symbolizing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, gateways to the main battlefields of World War II. Within each arch, four eagles lift a bronze cast oak laurel wreath. These two arches are divided into two sections, surrounded by 56 granite columns, representing the 48 states, jurisdictions of the United States at the time of the war, and Washington, DC. On each column, each wreath is cast in bronze, woven with oak leaves and wheat, and is decorated with the name of each state. Oak leaves symbolize military and industrial forces, and wheat represents agricultural production.
The most impressive part of the memorial is the Freedom Wall, located in the interior of the memorial. There are 4,048 gold stars on the wall, each star representing 100 American soldiers who died. Beneath the wall is a small calm pond and the engraved message, "Here we mark the price of freedom.”
World War II may be evaluated differently by individuals, depending on the point of view of how each country’s interests are interpreted due to the wide and complex interests among the many participating countries. What is clear is that some countries with excessive nationalism have come to their forefront, resulting in numerous innocent sacrifices. Personally, I found it somewhat difficult to be inspired by Washington DC's World War II Memorial. As a sculptor, it is very unfortunate that the design and sculptures are not particularly attractive given its enormous size, except for the fact that the space penetrates historical meaning, as revealed by the announcement stone. Perhaps it was because I sensed another nationalism with its own benefit and pride rather than the universal humanity which I was looking for in the memorial? These days, for the benefit of own country, today’s news reveals another aspect of nationalism, such as the unilateral breakdown of mutually-cooperative trade relations and sanctions that defy common sense. Where checks, balances, and competition can be positive for each other's development, the misguided self-interest between nations might lead us to step back on tragedy like World War II. My hope is that such golden stars will never be memorialized again in the future.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

V is for Victory. We often shout, “Cheese! Kimchi!” for smiles when we take pictures. At this time, my index finger and middle finger rose to make V without knowing it.  Right after passing 4o years old, I intentionally twisted these two fingers together and put them down. Still, when I see other people’s Vs in group photos, I happily mumbled ‘Yes. You are right there! That’s the victory!!’
Walking from the Washington Monument to Lincoln Memorial, you'll find a huge black V in a quiet park.  This is Maya Ying Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial which I analyzed in a comparison study with Richard Serra’s ‘Tilted Arc (1981-1989)’ which used to be displayed in Foley Federal Plaza in Manhattan, USA for a graduate school public art class.  Although the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was mentioned in many ways mainly due to being awarded to a young artist despite being such a large project, the memorial that I visited was the most minimal, yet had all the elements that a memorial should have.
The Vietnam War, which lasted for a long time from 1955 to 1975, brought the United States the stigma of defeat, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is part of history that Americans want to forget. The V of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial could be guessed that the V was not a victory when referring to this historical background. I temporary put my doubts about this minimal form down with the alphabetic hints of the title.
With the idea of Jan Scruggs, a veteran of the Vietnam War, the Vietnam War veterans wanted to have a tangible symbol of recognition from American society and create a non-profit charitable organization, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. and convene memorial designs. The condition of the competition is that it should be reflective in character, harmonize with other memorials around it, contain the names of the war victims, and have no political references to war. The last condition was impressive, saying it contained hope to begin an important process of national reconciliation by separating the issue of the Vietnam War veterans from government policy.
Under these conditions, 1,441 proposals came into being, and the design of Maya Ying Lin, 21, who then was a student of Architecture at Yale University, was selected. Lin's design was very simple in appearance but had clear intention and meaning. In summary, 246.75 feet of black granite walls meet at an angle of 125 degrees and 12 minutes, each end facing the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The surface of the mirror-polished black granite reflects the surrounding environment, bringing the memorial and nature together. The names of the 58,267 veterans were engraved in chronological order by date of casualty, showing a series of individual human sacrifices, and these names have become memorials.
Even though it was the winning work which clearly met the project’s requirements, Lin's design withstood a lot of criticism because of her personal background (Chinese-American, 21-year-old female student). Beyond such sexist and racist controversy, the posture of the monument was assailed: unlike existing memorials that were tall, the monument was not heroic, and viewed as if it “crawled into the ground” as if it were a symbol of defeat. Further, opponents contended that white stones should be used instead of black, a symbol of shame and sadness.  As a result, several who opposed the memorial design demanded that the selection process be canceled. Later, congressional settlements resulted in a compromise by the addition of three white, black, and Hispanic statues of soldiers and women, some distance from Lin's black walls, akin to other memorials.
The Memorial, dedicated in 1982, was to be slightly inclined downward towards the center of the V-shape. As mentioned in a critique, it makes you feel like you're descending into the ground, not in a negative way, but rather into the heart of an open memorial. Each of the 70 East and West Black Granite walls is numbered 1 through 70 at the bottom of each panel. This makes it easy to find its name on the Veterans Directory, located near the Memorial. On the front panel, it begins with on line. In small prints of 0.53 inches size, the names of solders are tightly lined up and each line could hold approximately five soldiers’ names. This line reaches 137 lines at the 10.1 feet (3 meters) center wall of the memorial. Each name is engraved with a diamond or cross in the front, with the diamond representing the deceased and a cross to signify a captive or missing veteran. At the bottom of each panel, there is a space, like a small foundation, where letters, mementos, and flowers are left by veterans' family and friends as part of a healing / closure process.  As such consideration is that the memorial hall allows each participant's name to be scrubbed with paper and pencil, and paper and pencil are provided free of charge by registration. Instead of the nostalgic body which now can not be touched, the name is repeatedly rubbed and rubbed.  A nostalgic name is slowly revealed when you rub the name with pencil and a family holds it tight near their hearts in honor of their loved one.  Just as Lin intended, these engraved names are fully serving their role not as a merely superficial memorial, but rather as a touching and sharing memorial to each individual.
There are words that suddenly touch my heart: The Value of Vulnerability.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which seems to be embedded in the ground of the park, is similar to the painful fragment of war in someone's heart. The frugal and humble figure, which resembles the unproud (shameful?) history of defeat, is more true than any towering memorial that boasts a heroic victory. Through a chapter that confesses this weakness and comforts each human being sacrifices, the place where we look back on the tragedy of war and repent, forgive, and reconcile creates a positive value for us in the future. I think I found the meaning of V suitable for this space, so I slowly hold my index and middle fingers up for a long time.

Lincoln Memorial: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

On July 4, 2019, there was another Independence Day celebration in Washington, DC. This was the "Salute to America" event planned by President Donald J. Trump in front of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. The event featured large tank exhibits as well as the parade to show off the ability of powerful U.S. forces such as Air Force One, the B-2 Stealth Bomber, and the Blue Angels.  Despite criticisms about the event and the uncooperative rainy weather, all the events were held firmly, and even though I was not at the scene, I could feel this event with the sound of airplanes flying loudly through the Washington D.C. sky. Above all, the final show of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels was a very symbolic show. The appearance of the six aircraft from the Lincoln Memorial, like fireworks bursting forth, was recorded as symbolic images of the event by the press.
The Lincoln Memorial has been and continues to be used as the venue for various historic gatherings and speeches. A well-known historic event, Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I have a dream" speech was held at the front of the memorial in 1963 and President Obama gave his pre-inauguration speech there in 2009. This space is still being used as a place to request and declare the fundamental rights of citizens such as freedom and equality, because it reminds Americans of President Lincoln's legacy regarding freedom and equality, and becomes an inspiring space for future generations.
The Lincoln Memorial is an American national memorial built to honor Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the 16th President of the United States who ended the Civil War and declared freedom for slaves through the Emancipation Act. The memorial is located on the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and overlooks the National Assembly and the Washington Monument.  It was designed by architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924) and completed on May 30, 1922.
This memorial is reminiscent of a Greek temple, and is built of Colorado Yule Marble and Indiana Lime Stone. It is surrounded by simple Doric style columns. There are 36 columns symbolizing the 36 states of the Union at the time of Lincoln's death, with the name of each state engraved on the frieze above the pillars. In 1922, the constitutional year of the memorial, the Union was made into 48 states, and the names of 48 states were also engraved on this upper attic outer wall.
When you climb the stairs and enter the memorial, you can face the seated Lincoln statue. The stone statue, 19 feet (5.8 meters) in height and width, is made up of 28 huge marble slabs. The statue was very similar to Lincoln's look through various sources. It has the iconic figure of Lincoln: wavy hair; sharp, angular face with mustache; wearing a long suit with bow-tie and vest. Among the two hands on the chair, one hand was laid naturally but the left hand is curled in a fist to symbolize his firm will. What is most impressive is that his eyes, slightly gazing up with a lowering look, let me imagine that he is looking at what is happening in the plaza in front of the memorial while gazing at the Capitol, across the reflecting pool. This fairly realistic Lincoln statue is based on Lincoln's actual life mask, which was made in the Chicago studio of Leonard Volk in 1860. Daniel Chester French (1850-1831) analyzed the mask and designed the statue while referring to other materials like photographs; the Piccirilli Brothers in New York sculpted it over a four-year period.
The north wall – the right side of the Lincoln statue – displays a carved inscription of Lincoln’s second inaugural address (1865). The Gettysburg Address is engraved on the southern wall of the memorial. Particularly in Gettysburg's speech, there is a well-known remark of democracy that we learned from our youth, "THAT GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE."
At the top of each speech is a 60 by 12 foot mural that resembles each speech, which was produced by French painter Jules Guerin (1866-1946). It is made of special paint containing kerosene and wax to withstand changes in temperature and humidity. Both murals have the background of cypress trees, the emblem of eternity, and angels appear in the center. The angel on the north wall is a symbol of unity, combining the hands of two people who represent the north and the south. The angel on the south wall is a symbol of freedom, as if ready to fly with both hands up and huge wings spreading, releasing slaves from the shackles.
In the basement of the memorial, the history of Lincoln's life and the memorial to the present is well arranged in a reference room. I thought the Lincoln Memorial has done its role greatly as the place to preserve the spiritual legacy of freedom, equality and unity along with the preservation of historical memories to remember. Was there a space like this in my mother country, Korea, too? I was relieved to recall that Gwanghwamun Square, where candlelight movement has been held, plays such a role. It is very important to have such a space as a peaceful speech platform to remind the precious historical heritage in democracy and to improve the present. In the history of the Lincoln Memorial, which is found through Wikipedia, President Trump’s recent event is already recorded. I imagine how this will be evaluated in the future of American history and how many gatherings and speeches will be held in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the future. I hope that all of these historical movements will satisfy our universal values and proceed towards a win-win situation.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

"Pang Pang Pang" The large and small fireworks burst in the evening sky on July 4th. Beginning with Memorial Day, outdoor facilities such as swimming pools open in the United States, and barbecue gatherings where burgers and hot dogs are grilled outside have started. These activities reach their peak on the 4th of July – Independence Day. During the day, people enjoy cold beer and hamburger with neighbors and friends, and when it gets dark, launch their own small fireworks or watch the big fireworks displays in town.
Although it is now an awkward time to use the term "American Dream", the United States is still an eminently livable country that rewards its residents’ efforts and guarantees a free life. After the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, I have wondered what historical efforts have been in place for these 240 something years of history in the United States of America. This history is chronicled well in Washington D.C. memorials and I decided to visit the Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Memorial first, who is the founding author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States.
There are many memorials surrounding the Tidal Basin, an artificial lake on the Potomac River, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is located on the south side of the Basin. Designed by architect John Russell Pope (1874-1937), the memorial was built in 1943. It was built in columns and domes in line with a Roman Pantheon look, Jefferson's favorite architectural style. Upon climbing the circular marble staircase at the entrance, I was able to meet a huge bronze Jefferson statue, standing just below the dome with a feeling that it was very large compared to the space. This bronze statue, 19 feet tall and 10,000 pounds in size, was made in 1947 by sculptor Rudolph Evans (1878-1960). At the time of the dedication in 1943, it was made with bronze-colored plaster because of the lack of metal due to World War II, and after four years it was rebuilt into bronze. The statue, which attempted to reproduce the image of Thomas Jefferson in his middle age years, has a Declaration of Independence on the left hand and a small piece of tobacco leaves and corns on the heel, symbolizing Jefferson's contribution to agriculture. The marble walls surrounding the statue contain the parts of Jefferson's speeches and the Declaration of Independence. The part of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 is written on the southwestern wall of the statue. The impressive part is that the statue's gaze overlooks the Tidal Basin over the pillars at the front of the memorial – this is significant considering the memorial faces the White House and the lake is surrounded by memorials bearing American history.
In the basement of the memorial there is a reference room filled with Jefferson's outstanding achievements showing the memorial's dedication to one person. While looking through his records, which appear to not be lacking for anything (“He is a true patrician, the culmination of the times!”), I found something interesting.  In spite of his writing "All men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson showed a different picture from his life. He had over 200 slaves and even had an advertisement seeking to find a runaway slave. The interpretation written next to the record is interesting – despite the evidence of this notice, Jefferson rarely resorted to harsh treatment or punishment. The frankness of the material, even to this point, makes us look at him as a human being like us and also makes me smile. I imagine Jefferson's own struggles from these ironic two sided data. The gap and conflict of his life and dream – born as the son of the great landlord, who relied on numerous slaves, but proclaimed the equivalence of human values.  However, Jefferson, nevertheless triggered "freedom and equality" towards society and history.
On the way home, I looked back at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial from a distance. The solitary Jefferson statue is like a giant trapped in the columns of the tradition that he loved. Is the gaze of this great giant staring alone in the distance between pillars looking at his dream to be made through history, even though he could not have done so in his own lifetime? In his gaze, there are the Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr.'s Memorial, additional histories of "Freedom and Equality," and the effect of his legacy continues on throughout history.

Korean War Veterans Memorial seen through a sculptor’s eyes

On the top left of the black granite wall, there is the phrase "FREEDOM IS NOT FREE".
At the beginning of the summer, when the tree canopy began to thicken, I visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC and there was a black wall with only these simple words. The wall was crossing the Pool of Remembrance, where a pair of ducks floated, creating a poetic landscape.
It is meaningful to revisit the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which was completed in 1995 in Washington DC, especially at this time of the year when many memories of the Korean War are rekindled, and since the Korean Peninsula and its neighboring countries are in a sensitive geopolitical environment.
I approached the pool of remembrance in the Memorial with a peaceful heart; however, engraved stats of dead, wounded, missing, and captured soldiers engaged me on the stone plate around the pool. The memorial is arranged like a circle and extended triangle – similar to a location pin on a Google map. Nineteen veterans with a long triangular composition are approaching the American Flag in the center of the circle and the Pool of Remembrance is located in the same shape as the echo of this point.
The 19 veterans are in various races, demonstrating that the Korean War was the most nation-supported war, at 67 countries – a Guinness record. In approaching the soldiers, I observed that they are about seven feet tall – slightly larger than life, making people feel overwhelmed. The soldiers are fully equipped, spanning the Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force. The troops all wear rain ponchos, reflecting the recollections of veterans that the hardest part of the Korean War was the cold and rainy weather. They are heading to the target with a lined composition. The rows are divided by polished granite stripes and patches of shot juniper bushes. They remind me of passages through the mountains of Korea, which is said to represent Korean rice fields and waterways. At this point, it is time to go back to see the words near the destination point of the flag that these soldiers are heading toward - "OUR NATION HONORS / HER SONS AND DAUGHTERS / WHO ANSWERED THE CALL / TO DEFEND A COUNTRY / THEY NEVER KNEW / AND A PEOPLE / THEY NEVER MET / 1950, KOREA 1953). This short summary, the meaning of the Memorial, suddenly tightened my heart.
The faces of the soldiers seem serious and full of fear and tension. How could it not be so when you think about those who would be walking through rainy mountains and fields in a country that might have never even heard before? In their deeply carved eyes, I could see their dark and scared hearts, and as the trace of clay modeling, the surface texture seems to look like a trace of scraping through the forest. These figures were cast with stainless steel and were a made by the American sculptor Frank Gaylord (1925-2018), a World War II veteran who could put more realistic aspects of war in his works.
Next to these troops, there is the 164-foot long wall of well-polished black granite with sand blasted images on its surface. The wall was made by Louis Nelson (1936-) and was composed of more than 2,500 photographs of the Korean War from the National Archives. The impressive aspect of this highly polished black granite surface is not only the vague war scenes, but also the reflected images of the 19 veterans. In addition, the image of you and me- who come to visit the Memorial is reflected together like one image. It seems as though we visitors become part of the monument of our history, which is a 67-year ongoing truce.
It might not be necessary to visit Washington DC's Korean War Veterans Memorial in June this year. Instead, how about remembering and looking for Korean War veterans around us, of which there are not that many remaining? They might no longer be as strong and overwhelming as the 7-foot sculptures in the memorial. Probably, now they have a small, curved appearance due to old age. However, their mind toward Korea is bigger than anything else and is worthy of respect from us.