Department of General Administration officials are earning a terrible reputation for their inability to protect and preserve the cherished monuments and memorials that dot the Capitol Campus.
If General Administration officials can’t do the job, perhaps it’s time to turn the responsibility over to another state agency that can.
The Winged Victory statue debacle has only recently been corrected.
That monument, in the traffic circle near the Insurance Building, depicts Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, standing behind a Red Cross nurse, a sailor, a soldier and a Marine. It is the work of Alfonso Victor Lewis, a sculptor from Seattle who died in 1946.
When the tribute to World War I veterans was refurbished 20 years ago, the South Sound community was shocked. To the untrained eye it looked like restoration crews used cans of gold Krylon spray paint. Residents were outraged that the monument had been ruined.
DUCKING FOR COVER
General Administration officials ducked for cover and assured the public that the statue would return to its natural beauty in short order.
That never happened.
It turns out that not only did the restoration crews do a terrible paint job, but the water damage, pits and cracks discovered recently were at least partially caused by the paint used during restoration process. Their shoddy work had actually damaged the statue.
A second, $167,000 restoration project was undertaken last year and today the Winged Victory monument radiates the rich, brown hue of its past.
While General Administration officials have corrected their previous mistakes with the Winged Victory, agency officials are under attack by artist Simon Kogan who designed the World War II memorial across 11th Avenue from the Hands On Childrens Museum.
Kogan, a Russian immigrant of Jewish descent who lost relatives during the war, says that overaggressive cleaning in May 2007 damaged the memorial and robbed it of its most powerful feature. He has demanded that the state agency fix the damage or he will sue.
Kogan seems to have a good case against General Administration. In 2002, General Administration crews cleaned the memorial with instructions from Kogan. But in 2007, the agency had the memorial power cleaned by a conservation technician without consulting Kogan.
The artist maintains that cleaning broke his contract with the state that says, “Where possible, the Artist shall be consulted as to his/her recommendations regarding repairs and restorations being made during the lifetime of the Artist.”
General Administration spokesman Steve Valandra said the state is not required to use Kogan.
A judge may have to decide which side is right.
The World War II memorial has two components. The first is the work done by Kogan. The main feature is a cluster of five, 14-foot-tall blades that contain the names of the nearly 6,000 state residents who died in the war. Nearby, a field of 4,000 wheat stalks made of bronze symbolize this collective loss.
The names carved into the five blades helped create ghost-like images of servicemen and others. Kogan contends that the powerwashing destroyed the patina that gave color, form and contrast to the “ghosts,” destroying a central feature of the memorial, which was dedicated on May 28, 1999.
Officials say the memorial is not damaged and it hired a third party to ensure it was cleaned following standards defined by state law.
The second component to the World War II memorial are the hundreds of memorial bricks purchased by individuals to honor family members and friends who served in the European and Pacific theaters. Kogan said the powerwashing removed the light colored grout, making the names unreadable.
The memorial tiles are in terrible shape. A few are cracked or chipped and huge sections of the tiles along 11th Avenue are totally illegible.
John Lee, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said the tiles will be replaced with a more durable material with money set aside by the Legislature for repair of memorials on the campus.
That must happen quickly. The condition of the tiles today is an affront to those who purchased them and dishonors the service members memorialized on the bricks.
The dispute between the artist and General Administration may well end up in court. That’s a shame.
Given General Administration’s poor track record, perhaps it’s time to transfer responsibility for maintenance and preservation to the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation or the Washington State Arts Commission. Officials there may be more sensitive to how special campus monuments and memorials are.