Friday, May 21, 2021

Maybe "Lift Up the Wronged Garden"....


     Art gets a bad rap. Ponderous, often. Incomprehensible, or else too apparent. Trivial, derivative, unskilled—the list of flaws goes on and on.
     But art has its place.
     My hometown of Berea, Ohio, is looking good. And we wandered the downtown, where children played and adults relaxed amidst the gazebos, playgrounds and walkways. We headed to the Triangle to assure myself that the plaque to the U.S.S. Maine was still there—I think figuring out what the "Maine" might have been kicked off my lifelong habit of learning about history. We even strolled into the MetroPark, which looked lush and lovely.
     So it is perhaps unfair for me to focus on this little tableau by Coe Lake. The Victims of Crime Memorial Garden.
     But it bothered me, in previous visits, and bothered me again Wednesday. More so because I couldn't put my finger on what the trouble is. That it's a downer? No, bad stuff happens, and it helps to memorialize it. That it passes itself off as a "garden" though has no flowers that I noticed? I didn't think of that until later, puzzled as to what the problem is.
     It finally came to me: artless. "Victims of Crime Memorial Garden." You can't get more direct than that. It's like an urban planner's note scrawled on a city map denoting where the victims of crime memorial garden will go when the proper poetic sorts figure out how to create a fitting tribute that is soothing and appropriate. Only nobody ever did, and through some awful miscommunication the dashed off scrawl became the name of the thing.
     And don't get me started on that grindstone. Yes, Berea was the Sandstone Capitol of the World. And yes, there are a lot of them still scattered around, with every august house sporting one in the garden. And yes, we are proud.
     But did anyone consider the optics of using a grindstone to announce the garden where those ground down by having their loved ones fall to crime seek refuge and comfort? (If indeed it is intended for them. By it's name, it might just be done on behalf of the dead, and we living don't factor into the equation. That would explain a lot).
     Did they consider they were pushing a grindstone under the nose of the ground down? Or at best offering up a historical non sequitur to safe suburban sorts untouched by a whisper of crime as they are reminded that upon an unfortunate few falls the shadow? The optics of that? Perhaps that is what the little garden statuary angel was stuck there to counterbalance, but the poor cherub just isn't up to the task.
     As my wife and I drove east, after a lovely night with our friends, three types of homemade pizza and two types of homemade ice cream—we Ohioans know how to host company—she mentioned in passing the one thing that had bugged her. "The victims garden?" I replied. Bingo. I asked her why. She wasn't bothered by the name so much as the typography.
     "Stark," she said. She had a point. All caps, like something off a bowling trophy. Here a few flourishes and curlicues might have gone a long way. 
     Not that figuring out a proper name is easy. Just as when I criticize a headline, I make myself come up with a better one, on the road the next day I tried to come up with a better one. "Victims: is reductive, like "slaves." It implies that's all they were. "Enslaved people" jars in its own way, I but I get what they're driving at.  Maybe "violence" instead of crime, since I'm assuming it isn't intended for those who cope with graft. "Comfort Those Touched by Violence Garden" seems a start. I'll welcome suggestions—800 miles driven in two days, it takes a toll on the creative abilities.
     So my intention isn't to criticize the Berea civic types who took the minimal time, least effort and lowest possible expense to put this together. Yes, they tried. But c'mon guys, rise to the occasion next time. There is nothing wrong with comforting the bereaved or remembering the fallen. But if you're going to do it, do it right.

7 comments:

  1. What puzzles me the most is what the huge stone with the square hole in the middle is supposed to represent. The White Man's Burden perhaps? Ignoring the fact that most of the victims of crime (or at least the victims of violence) are also potential victimizers, the Black, brown and otherwise marginalized fore-ordained losers in our society. Plus, the very nature of the memorial seems to indicate that the "victims" are dead, which (fortunately I suppose) is not the case.

    john

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    1. "And don't get me started on that grindstone. Yes, Berea was the Sandstone Capitol of the World. And yes, there are a lot of them still scattered around..."

      Now you've got ME started. Grndstones were the huge stones (often called millstones) used in gristmills, for grinding grain. They were cut and carved and shaped from Berea's numerous (and once-famous) sandstone quarries. The lakes that dot downtown Berea are former quarries.

      So the stone was designed that way. It wasn't shaped into a circle for the "monument"...and the hole was already there. The "monument" was simply a re-purposed grindstone. Mr. S is right...some Berea big-shot got the idea for a "crime victims monument" and passed the buck down to a lower-level bureaucrat who realized that there were a lot of available grindstones lying around.

      Obviously, the pencil-pushers took the easiest way out. No muss, no fuss, not much expense. Just back up the truck and haul an old grindstone to the park. Stick it in the ground near a tree and slap a crappy plaque on it. t. Dig a flowerbed, put down some mulch under a tree, and call it a "memorial garden." Wash your hands, have a brief dedication service at the newly-minted "shrine"--and the task is finished.

      Why have discussions on the esthetics of the monument that the Boss Man wants? Why have a contest, with designs submitted? Why hire and pay the winning sculptor? Just pick it up and put it down, boys. This ain't no Vietnam Memorial. And it shows.

      My wife and I used to work near Coe Lake. We never thought about that grindstone "memorial" very much...it was just there. Some grand poobah's bright idea that became a reality. Berea folks recycle grindstones into all kinds of things, like benches and tables. Some are even used to display house numbers.

      And, yes, in this case,"memorial" appears to simply mean "in honor and remembrance of the dead." The buck-passers probably didn't give much thought to what "memorial" really means. Our fast-approaching Memorial Day honors the dead veterans who served, not the ones who served and survived. The plaque excludes and neglects and ignores the crime victims who were NOT killed, and who live with their trauma every day. And what about the relatives of both the dead and the living? They are also crime victims, and they suffer, too.

      My wife and I hardly notice that grindstone anymore. Thanks for pointing it out and reminding us, Mr. S. Your usual great job of observing something, often the commonplace, and then writing about it and making it the exceptional.

      And the Tallmadge streetlights? They are replicas of the original Evanston ones. Many American cities now have them. Lighter in weight than the originals, they are knock-offs that are not made of cast-iron, like the old ones in Evanston were...the original ones that eventually rusted out at the bottom, and succumbed to time and harsh weather.

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  2. In the small world department, I note that the street light in the photo is a Tallmadge Light - the same type that lines the streets of Evanston (IL). There is also a Tallmadge Park in Evanston. Tallmadge refers to the design of the light.

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  3. How about a secular monument like a fountain or an eternal flame? They might convey contemplation and meditation which may incite one to action against crime as opposed to prayers wishing for a better world.

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  4. My objection to the artifact as art is it being relegated to a sign post.

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  5. I think it suggests that the souls of dead crime victims are trapped inside there somehow.

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  6. Beyond the choice of wording, my first thought when seeing that huge grindstone used as a sign was that it was probably one of several being used as markers for various civic efforts in the area, some kind of theme for wandering visitors to associate with the last one and the next one. If it really was plonked down by itself, for that sign only, then I would assume that someone had a long and elaborate explanation for why they chose it for that purpose. (Incidentally, the typographic style seen in the photo is not all caps but "small caps," where all the glyphs are capital letters, but the first is rendered in a larger point size. That style I am certain was chosen for its formal appearance, whereas all caps is generally regarded as shouting these days.)

    I don't have very strong opinions on modern art myself, except that I expect to see some effort put into whatever the artist wants to say. I can admire art that I don't like, in other words, by still having an appreciation for all the work that went into creating it, whatever "it" might be. An elaborate painting of something I don't like, for example, still deserves appreciation for all the effort that went into putting it on canvas. Conversely, a blank canvas to which someone has glued 12 clothes hangers in a circle (another example I've seen in person) was probably cranked out in about an hour, and relies more on the artist being able to impress patrons with enough blather and bafflegab to make them get out their checkbooks. He won't see mine.

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