Architect Requests More Changes to King Statue

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By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 19, 2008

The furrows in Martin Luther King Jr.'s brow already are gone, and his face looks less troubled.

The pen in his left hand is gone, too, replaced by a scroll. His hands seemed etched in more detail, down to the creases in his knuckles and the bones under the skin. There are buttons on his coat sleeves.

The sculpture of the civil rights leader, destined for a memorial on Washington's Tidal Basin, began undergoing these subtle yet noticeable changes even before a federal arts commission expressed its criticism of the model last month. Now it will probably be altered even more.

Ed Jackson Jr., the executive architect on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial project, said last week that he is sending more modifications to the sculptor in China, who is building a full-scale clay model of the 28-foot sculpture, known as the Stone of Hope.

"If he says it's doable," Jackson said of project sculptor Lei Yixin, adding that if Lei can maintain the integrity of the massive image of King, "then we're willing to do it."

But in an interview last week, Lei expressed irritation at objections the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has raised to the proposed depiction of King in the Stone of Hope, the centerpiece of the $100 million memorial.

Initially, the arts commission "voted for it unanimously," he said by telephone from his home in Changsha, China. "Now they say my statue is too confrontational.

"Some of them say my statue resembles dictators from communist or socialist countries, that it somewhat resembles Stalin or Lenin from the Soviet Union or Mao Zedong from China," Lei said.

"The art of statues originally came from the West," he said. "What is the difference in the style in the socialist countries? It's like ballet. We Chinese can boast that our ballet is among the best in the world. Do not think it is different because it is Chinese."

The tempest over the aesthetics of the King statue has arisen since the federal commission approved the design in 2006, based on drawings inspired by a famous photograph. The design showed an image of King from the waist up with his arms crossed, subtly emerging from the stone. He has a pen in his left hand and a thoughtful look on his face.

But the initial models constructed in China by Lei and his team of artisans show King from the knees up, almost fully clear of the stone, with a knitted brow and a stern look.

Last month, commission Secretary Thomas Luebke wrote a letter criticizing the sculpture as too "confrontational" and reminiscent of the social realism style. He compared it to statues that have been torn down in totalitarian states and said commission members thought it had lost the subtlety they liked in the drawings.


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