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Fremont's Lenin in focus after removal of Confederate monuments

Photo: JOSHUA TRUJILLO, SEATTLEPI.COM

SEATTLE - Robert E. Lee and Vladimir Lenin are strange bedfellows, but critics of the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans earlier this month put Seattle's statue of the Soviet communist leader under scrutiny.

In case you're not familiar with the controversy in the Big Easy, in late April Mayor Mitch Landrieu began the removal process for four Confederate monuments after a 6-1 vote by the City Council authorizing the move in 2015. Landrieu called the statues, which included portrayals of Lee, Jefferson Davis, P.T. Beauregard and a granite obelisk called "The White Rebellion" as "symbols of white supremacy."

"It would be better for all New Orleans city leaders children, black and white, to see symbols in prominent places in New Orleans city leaders city that make them feel proud of their city and inspire them to greatness," Landrieu said.

The removal of the statues caused considerable backlash from those who saw the act as an attempt to cover up the city region's history.

While writing about the removal of the New Orleans monuments, right-wing media site NewsBusters relayed a reader's comment comparing the four removed statues to the Lenin statue in Fremont, the irreverent, artsy North Seattle neighborhood and self-proclaimed "Center of the Universe."

The statue's origin story is well documented. Commissioned by the Czechoslovakia Communist Party in 1981, Bulgarian sculptor Emil Venkov completed the 18-foot tall monument in 1988, when it was installed in the city of Poprad in what is now Slovakia. Unlike most portrayals of Lenin, which depicted him as a scholar or philosopher, Venkov's statue cast Lenin as a revolutionary, surrounding him with flames and weapons.

The statue was toppled in 1989 after the Velvet Revolution toppled communism in Czechoslovakia, and that's when Lewis Carpenter found it in a scrapyard. The English teacher from Issaquah then mortgaged his house to purchase and transport the statue to Washington in 1993 before Carpenter's death in 1994.

Issaquah debated displaying the statue before eventually deciding against it, and Carpenter's family planned to sell it to a Fremont foundry to melt it down, but Seattle sculptor Peter Bevis instead found a place to display the statue in Fremont until the family found a buyer. The Lenin statue, held in trust by the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, was unveiled on June 3, 1995, two blocks south of its current location.

It's arrival in Seattle met with controversy.

"This is highly inappropriate in this community," artist Frederick Edelblut told SeattlePI shortly after its unveiling. "It's not a piece of art. It's a disgrace, a a symbol of denigration, and a symbol of millions of people who have died in Eastern Europe from communist domination."

Bevis disagreed, contending that "art outlives politics," which echoes a sentiment shared on Fremont's official website.

"This sculpture is placed here in the Artist's Republic of Fremont, as a symbol of an artistic spirit that outlasts regimes and ideologies, and as tangible proof that art does outlive politics," it reads.

Over the past two-plus decades, the Lenin statue has come to be regarded as one of Seattle's quirkiest art installations, joining the likes of it's Fremont neighbors, the Troll and the Rocket. But there are still those who say it has no place in the city. The statue, which sports a $250,000 price tag and is still awaiting for a buyer, is often vandalized with graffiti and red paint meant to look like blood.

"What's next?" Edelblut asked in 1995. "A statue of General Custer? A statue of Hitler?"

Perhaps not, but maybe watch out for Lee, Davis and Beauregard.

The Seattle-PI is a KOMO News partner. Click here to read the original article.

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