Swap Statues for Civic Consensus

I point out to visitors and newcomers that Eugene is such a laid back place that almost all of our statues are of people sitting down. Rosa Parks is forever seated outside the transit station. An unnamed girl sits with her belongings at the Japanese American Art Memorial on Sixth Avenue near the Hult Center. Inside the Hult Center, the Performing Frogs are comically sitting as they play.

Ken Kesey sits while reading a book to his grandchildren at the corner of Broadway and Willamette in downtown. And Eugene Skinner sits on a rock outside the library, holding his hat and seemingly waiting for a bus — to be invented. There was room for him beside Rosa Parks, except that she — the person and the statue — came later.

I know of two standing sculptures and there may be more. “The Pioneer” on campus is clearly looking for a place to sit, probably because Eugene had not yet been founded. And Wayne Morse is depicted outside the Lane County Courthouse, but the sculptor wanted to capture the moment when the Senator was standing (alone) against the Vietnam War.

All of this memorialized sitting might indicate an unwillingness to move. Parks had to be forcibly moved, and that started a movement. Let’s assume for a moment that statues can be moved more easily than people. If that’s so, we could move ourselves toward a bit of civic peace.

Swap the Skinner and Kesey statues.

All Eugene residents would agree that Ken Kesey is a towering literary figure. He’s a favored son who instills local pride and draws visitors. Anyone should be astounded at the pilgrimages that people undertake to see the place where Kesey felt at home.His literary genius is not disputable.

Kesey is a hero for many of us, for what he did and for how he lived. Not everyone agrees about that. Some recognize his talent, but stop short of embracing it as part of their identity. Not every parent would want their children making the choices Kesey made.

But there he is, front and center, in the middle of our downtown.

Some would rather not picture Eugene in psychedelic hues. Kesey always said, “Never trust a prankster,” and they don’t. Many of those people refuse to come downtown.

They respect Kesey for his books, and that’s enough for them. They wouldn’t mind seeing a Kesey statue in town, but they’d rather it be in front of the public library, where his books should always be available in ample supply.

The statue of Eugene Skinner is on roughly the same scale as the Kesey statue. Only one of them is reading a book.

By all accounts, Eugene Skinner wasn’t the bookish sort. He was an explorer, a businessman, a politician of sorts, and our city’s founding father. None of that has anything to do with our library. His statue would fit fine in the space currently occupied by Kesey in the middle of our downtown.

Skinner is by definition central to anyone who calls Eugene home. Only some of our residents would claim there’s a Kesey-flavored nougat at the center of who they are.

Would swapping these two statues solve any of Eugene’s current problems? Probably not. Travelers will continue to flock to Eugene during the clement months, and many will seek out the Kesey statue. They won’t be surprised to see it by the library. They might even respond to that moment of inspiration by going in and reading.

Downtown visitors will still have their pictures taken with a bronze place-making marker. The inanimate character in their souvenir photos won’t be making any sort of political statement, except that people have gotten bigger and hats have gotten smaller.

Moving Kesey from the city’s central square might make it easier to decide whether that open space should be preserved, reimagined, or filled in. That remains to be seen.

More importantly, our center would convey commonality. City Councilor and mayoral candidate Mike Clark, who first suggested this statue swap, believes that message would be received and appreciated. Downtown Eugene should welcome everyone, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.