Panel introduces education videos promoting Eisenhower Memorial


Screen shot of the D-Day homepage. (Courtesy of Local Projects, LLC)

After laying low for months, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission announced Thursday that it is launching the first element of its “E-Memorial,” an educational component that will complement the Frank ­Gehry-designed project. Carl Reddel, executive director of the commission, said the video material will be available online and through handheld devices at the physical memorial when it is built.

The educational video package is being unveiled Thursday in honor of the 69th anniversary of D-Day. The material covers one of seven pivotal moments of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s career as a military leader and as president. Other chapters, not yet released, will include the Little Rock desegregation crisis, the creation of NASA and Eisenhower’s departure for West Point. The commission also sponsored a public meeting Wednesday at the National Press Club to unveil proposed quotations for the memorial’s inscriptions.

Coming less than three months after a congressional hearing at which the memorial’s critics renewed their complaints about the Gehry design, the small steps forward suggest that the commission is determined to move ahead with the design and approval process.

It also reinforced an essential design ethos in Gehry’s concept for the memorial: Although formally innovative, it is remarkably conservative in its approach to memorialization. Eschewing the use of short excerpts found at new memorials, such as the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, Gehry’s design calls for longer, more contextual use of Eisenhower’s speeches. If the commission goes forward with the quotations proposed by a committee of Eisenhower experts, the memorial could include substantial excerpts from Eisenhower’s “Guildhall Address,” delivered after the World War II victory in Europe, and from his first and second inaugural speeches. The texts would be inscribed on large horizontal plinths, with caps that sit slightly askew.

“We had a pause, but not a stop,” says Reddel, a retired Air Force brigadier general.

The commission staff and Gehry’s office have used the past months to continue tests on the memorial’s signature design element, the metal tapestries that depict the Kansas landscape of Eisenhower’s youth. Behind-the-scenes efforts have also been made to respond to comments, including criticism of the memorial. They have moved forward with the selection of sculptors to create the free-standing and bas-relief elements, and their names may be announced at a commission meeting on June 19. Although there are no dates officially on the calendar for the two design-oversight bodies, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, that doesn’t preclude meetings later this summer or later this year. An Eisenhower Memorial Commission spokeswoman said its staff members intend to go before the CFA in July.

Since the Eisenhower Memorial Commission last unveiled updated designs from Gehry more than a year ago, major changes in the political landscape have occurred. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), who served as the vice chairman of the commission, died in December. In April, President Obama appointed Sally Jewell to replace Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior, which oversees the National Park Service, the custodian of the memorial when it is finished. And with his reelection in November, Obama may be insulated from political pressures, including from the traditionally Republican Eisenhower family, whose most vocal member, Eisenhower granddaughter Susan Eisenhower, became an independent in 2008 and endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama for president. She remains a vocal critic of the design and criticized the commission for moving forward.

“It is surprising, even inappropriate, that this phase is unfolding right now under all the circumstances,” Eisenhower said. “There are many issues still to be resolved, and it seems to me that we should be focusing on that rather than selecting inscriptions and making announcements about the E Memorial.”

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.
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