The controversy surrounding the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall seems to have died down finally. After the dramaticblack wall was criticized for its abstract style, a more realistic statue of three servicemen was installed nearby. The Veterans Memorial is now the most visited monument in Washington, and it clearly has touched the hearts of veterans and other citizens with its stark, simple design. Most seem to be satisfied.
Almost. A grass-roots organization, started in Minneapolis three years ago, is campaigning for another statue -- this one depicting an American nurse in Vietnam -- that would be placed opposite the existing statue. Organizers feel that women who served in Vietnam have been ignored by the American public and deserve recognition.
"People don't think of women in Vietnam," says Jackie Hanson, spokesman for the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project. "Women have been involved in every war, serving thousands of people."
Organizers were in the District last week to plug the idea to Interior Secretary Donald Hodel, bringing with them a small bronze sculpture by artist Roger Brodin as a proposed example of the life-size one. The model, of a lone nurse, has been circulating the country -- at fairs, VFW halls and public places -- to garner comment and support. The effort has raised $300,000 so far, all through private donations.
So far the organization hasn't encountered any heavy opposition, though Hanson admits many veterans groups think having the names of slain nurses included on the wall is memorial enough. Still, the group would like to have the statue up by next year's Veterans Day. "We need a constant reminder of the women who served," says Hanson. "There would be a thousand more grave crosses from Vietnam if it had not been for their dedication and bravery."
The coolly elegant Meridian House International's interior was graced with the large-scale, superrealist paintings of San Antonio artist Jesse Travino last week. Travino and a few hundred of his friends gathered Thursday night at a reception for the White House Hispanic Heritage Week Awards.
With a medal presented by U.S. Treasurer Katherine D. Ortega, Travino was honored not only for his "valor, loyalty and pride," but also for his artistic contribution to the Hispanic community. What is particularly remarkable about Travino's achievement is that he has overcome an enormous obstacle: the loss of his right arm just below the elbow in Vietnam.
Travino says that loss was the turning point in his career. After considering teaching, he decided he really wanted to paint. So he learned to use his left hand.
Travino was born in Mexico but grew up with 12 brothers and sisters in San Antonio, where he has lived ever since. He says life as an artist has been difficult, not so much because of his physical handicap, but because "I'm a Hispanic. People use that label all the time. What does it matter? My work is American, I'm an American. I want to be in the mainstream of art with all other artists."
What keeps him going? He smiles and says, "Remember when the pope was in L.A.? There was a young man who played the guitar for him -- with his feet. Can you imagine? If I lost my left arm, that's how I would paint -- any way I could."
Invitation to Research
The National Museum of Women in the Arts will open its library and research center to the public tomorrow. The research facility includes monographs, reference books and more than 5,000 volumes, among them 100 books about women artists. In addition, the library has resource files on more than 6,000 women artists, dead and living.
"We will be a very distinctive place," says librarian Krystyna Wasserman. "There are few places that scholars and students can get excellent information on women artists."
An exhibition of women artists' books, "Books as Art," will go on display this week, and many artists featured will visit through the week, including international artist and publisher Claire Vliet, who will lecture today.
Also up this week is the museum's first photography show: "Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Retrospective Exhibition," which opens tomorrow. The 91-year-old Dahl-Wolfe is known mostly for her fashion photography.
Coming Right Up
Saturday seems to be the best day for art-related events this week:
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., there's Washington Cathedral's open house festival with bagpipers, a brass ensemble and choirs; dedication of the last of the newly installed bronze doors; and demonstrations of stone carving, brass rubbing and calligraphy. Best of all, the great central tower will be open for its one day a year. The view of the city from this highest of high points swirls with trees (it's the wonderful thing you notice most) and leaves the mind serene.
From noon to 6 p.m., plunge yourself into that greenery at Rock Creek Park Day and the 10th International Festival. Participants from 25 countries will sing, dance and present arts and crafts of their native lands.
Then at 7:30 p.m., the Centro de Arte's "Artistic Tribute to the Chilean People" features music and visual arts, including a posthumous photography show by Rodrigo Rojas, a District resident killed by military forces in Chile last year.
And finally, it may be hard to imagine, but the District will finally be Wyeth-free: "The Helga Pictures," at the National Gallery, are heading out of town on Sunday. Washington Post staff member Gigi Anders contributed to this report.