Pioneering spirit embodied in artist's latest sculpture


It could have been an occasion to pay tribute to a pioneer.

When artist Squire Broel considered how best to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the community through sculpture, it crossed his mind to break from his abstract nature and create something more statuary.

Perhaps a memorial to a local icon.

But choosing just one central figure in Walla Walla's history seemed impossible. So his sculpture became not about a person, but about people.

The 121/2-foot "Looking Back, Looking Forward," to be celebrated Friday at ArtWalla's "Black and Gold Gala," was not immediately embraced by all members of the city's sesquicentennial planning committee.

Some, Broel said, also had visions of statuary art similar to the monuments that celebrate Marcus Whitman and PeoPeoMoxMox.

The more Broel explained about the pioneering spirit embodied in the piece, the more the committee began to embrace it.

Now its greatest initial critics are among its biggest supporters, Broel marveled during a recent meeting downtown, a block or two from where his piece will be added to the city's public art collection Tuesday at Heritage Park.

"That's what art should do," he said. "It should affect someone so deeply that it causes them to think differently."

The piece has even had that affect on its creator.

It was conceptualized as a monument celebrating progress and growth through symbols and materials representing the industry, agriculture, commerce, banking, education and more.

After it began to take shape at the Walla Walla Foundry, where it has been molded, cast and finished with a patina, Broel began to see concepts even he didn't initially envision.

All 150 inches are a symbol alone of the community's pioneering spirit. One inch for each year.

"The structure is growth-oriented," he said. "It's really reaching. That's why people came out here. They were trying to find something."

Sticks at the base of the sculpture came to remind Broel slightly of the community's metaphorical people holding up the community reminiscent of the soldiers raising the flag in the famed U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.

Others may see something different as they stroll by the sculpture, which will be installed at the entryway to the downtown Walla Walla park.

"It's an abstract piece going into a public area," Broel said. "I want people to bring their own interpretation to it."

The piece incorporates literal references, too. Gold ingots symbolizing the gold rush and its impact on development, for instance.

The ingots came from Baker Boyer Bank, by the way. Other elements, river rocks, a belt buckle with an insignia from Fort Walla Walla Museum, a prospector's pan -- historical artifacts either used directly or duplicated in molds and incorporated at the base of the sculpture.

In a description of the piece, the timber core is said to be symbolic of leadership that has helped the community forge an identity through quality of life and robust commerce.

Broel combined his own fascination and interest in botanical forms and life cycles with the parameters of a historic monument for a piece that addresses numerous themes: early society, refined society, commerce, education.

The top of the sculpture is shaped to reference a fish, feather, wheat stalk, airplane wing, Whitman monument, wind turbine blade, power poles, fence posts, botanical and bone.

Near the top is a portal of light made from recycled wine bottle glass as a reference to vision and ancestry, as well as ideas and powers greater than ourselves.

Underneath are three more circular pieces: one a swirling thumb print representing the mark we leave individually and collectively; one a rough, unrefined mask representing the early community; the other a more refined mask symbolizing continued growth and development.

This will be Broel's fourth public installation in Walla Walla.

He also created "Blooms in August" on Main Street, "Lights of the Valley" near Second Avenue and Main Street and "Three-Stories" on the Whitman College campus.

His piece was one of three finalists in the running.

It was selected by ArtWalla, which also considered results of a public vote.

A grant from the Donald and Virginia Sherwood Trust is covering the cost.

The piece will be dedicated in a ceremony next Tuesday and then gifted to the city as part of its public art collection.

The piece especially speaks to Broel and his own roots in the community. "Walla Walla is my home," he said.

"This is where I grew up. I want it to be a reflection of that."


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