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The Art of Politics

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Tolerance to be unveiled

An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way." 

- Charles Bukowski


It is easy to underestimate the importance of art on society. In an age where there is more information than most people can absorb, flowing like a torrent principally in oral and written form, art stands apart as a powerful form of quieter messaging in the din of ambient communication. Its welcome can be more subtle; its story often more complex; its impact more enduring. Not everyone feels this way, and for this reason its capacity to be controversial is an integral part of understanding why we need to embrace it in our everyday lives. Our artwork, whether in the form of paintings, quilts, beadwork, sculpture, ironwork, woodwork, clay pottery or stone speaks to our priorities, our politics and our values.

Fortunately Sandpoint has not hungered for talented people. Over time, the regional and national artisan grapevine has worked its magic, communicating that Sandpoint is a comfortable environment in which to be creative. People who knew they were gifted, along with people who arrived and pursued their hidden talents, have together nurtured their skills, creating a strong and vibrant, albeit casual, network of curators, sculptors and artisans. It is the arts community that provides a mechanism for cultural activities in, and exhibitions for, the public school district, through the mutual efforts of the Pend Oreille Arts Council, the Panida and countless volunteers. It is the arts community that helped win Sandpoint the distinction of being in the top 100 places to live for the arts (ranked amongst small towns). And it is the artistic work of David Kraisler that will greet the public when they turn the bend and head in or out of town on First Avenue.

Like most good art, Kraisler’s piece has a story of offering, acceptance, rejection and triumph. The story begins with Celebrate Sandpoint, a coalition of citizens and organizations that fashioned a formal response to the prospect of an Ayran Nation-sponsored parade. Amongst the many endorsed ideas was the concept of having an artistic sculpture that reflected the citizens’ anti-racist sentiments. Kraisler offered to design a piece that could stand on its own merits as a public art piece, while equally fulfilling the need to make a political statement against bigotry.

The logistics began in earnest to raise the funds, identify the materials and work with the City of Sandpoint to accept the piece. Kraisler’s piece, deemed Tolerance, was presented to Mayor Paul Graves at the signature ceremony, and many spoke of the positive impact resulting from the occasion. Shortly thereafter, Sandpoint city council went into executive session and emerged in a quandary over the theoretical legalities of accepting a work of art. There was a lack of precedence, political will and confidence on the part of some city council members to believe that resolutions could be crafted that differentiated between gifts that contradicted the city’s published political ideals and gifts that upheld those principles. In the name of equity, the symbol of equality was politely rejected, with Mayor Graves casting the deciding vote on an evenly split council.

Dumbfounded, but undaunted, Kraisler and Celebrate Sandpoint wasted no time in making a similar offer to the Bonner County Commissioners. The Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to accept the piece, passed the resolution providing a mechanism for its receipt and selected the most prominent location available for its presentation – the front lawn of the county courthouse. In history, even local history, there is a measurable cause and effect to all events that helps future generations understand how society and government develop its decisions and reactions. “The irony of this location is that as people enter or exit town they will see the sculpture and indirectly attribute the positive statement being made to the city of Sandpoint, even though it is the county that is making it all possible,” stated Kraisler. “The really positive thing is that they (the Commissioners) realized this, and wanted to do it anyway.”

Success stories are generally collaborative, and this one is no exception. Kraisler designed the wooden sculpture and oversaw its construction and seating. Debbie Ferguson was instrumental in providing momentum to the fundraising efforts. Tim Ferguson donated his time and built the concrete forms. Idaho Electric donated all of the materials associated with providing lighting to the sculpture, totaling approximately $2,000 in value. John and Jonah Pucci did all the concrete work and formed the settings for the bronze plaques. John Broadsword, owner of North Idaho Logs, fabricated the piece and his business donated the logs. The Idaho Native Plant Society, Kinnickkinnick Chapter, is donating the plants that will be at the base of the sculpture.  Local electrician James Simonton gave his time and talents to get the trenching dug and the wiring in place to ensure a reliable connection.  Three bronze plaques will encircle the piece at the base, one with a poem by Martin Niemoller titled "First They Came," one with an essay entitled "I Am One," by SHS graduate Laura Stoll, and one honoring all veterans for their courage and sacrifice in defense of freedom.

The sculpture itself is a work of abstract art. Kraisler, with 36 years experience in architectural design and sculpting, has designed pieces placed all over the country, generally significantly larger pieces that you can walk through or sit on. “This is the smallest piece I have ever created as art in public places, a small gem,” stated Kraisler. “A good sculptor or architect has an inherently good sense of scale. In public art you want something large enough to be dynamic, yet has repose, and doesn’t make the viewer feel uncomfortable.” For these reasons he chose to work with wooden logs instead of his more native materials of steel, concrete and bronze. The logs are formed in an abstract trilogy, or triangular formation, encased in a circle. There are cross pieces of wood and the dirt at the base is in a dome shape. “The sculpture is not designed to be a particular statement or specific symbol per se. It is a blend of pieces and shapes that are natural, comfortable imagery and allow for personal artistic interpretation. I believe an artist has an obligation to make the public art design sustainable. It has to work long after the events precipitating the design are forgotten.”

The dedication ceremony will be held this Saturday, August 17th, in front of the courthouse. Brief remarks will be made by Senator Shawn Keough, and Commissioners Tom Suttmeier, and Jerry Clemons. Music by Ice House (a rock and roll band) and the Albeni Falls Scottish Pipes and Drums, as well as clown entertainment for the kids, will enhance the day. If you are interested in contributing toward this project, silent bids are being accepted on Kraisler’s donated drawing of his work Tolerance. The drawing was framed courtesy of Ben Franklin Craft store and is hanging in the lobby of the Bonner County Daily Bee.

“Having only been in the community for three years, I am honored and pleased to be a part of this project,” stated Kraisler. It is his hope the city council will see the benefit of incorporating public art in and around Sandpoint, particularly when it comes to the design of the Sandcreek Byway. “Why miss an opportunity to make a bad thing better?” questioned Kraisler. “If we can get the city council to approve the Arts Commission, we have a window to create a Sculpture Park along the Byway that people would travel long distances to come and see.” So far the City Counsel has not moved forward on this initiative although ITD has invested time and energy in capturing and annotating the design concepts being brainstormed. Sound implausible? Consider the design and review energies going into the visual conceptualization of Ground Zero in New York City. Consider the dedication of the national scenic byway on Highway 200. Consider the amount of traffic we get from outside the area passing through our region. Visualize the possibilities.

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Author info

Carol Curtis

Tagged as:

Sandpoint, public art, tolerance, sculpture, David Kraisler

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