Monday, August 10, 2009

St. Louis Block Mural Proposal in Helena: "Palimpsest"

I have decided to try and do some public art projects, starting with a proposal for a public art project here in Helena at the Boston Block downtown. It's my first attempt at such a proposal. The project requires a one million dollar insurance policy for some reason, which I don't have (not being a big professional design firm) nor do I currently have the money for, being a local starving artist ;-)...but if I were selected, I would have money for the policy! :-) Anyways, I thought it would be worth a try, and I am posting my idea and images here so you can see what my idea is.

“Palimpsest.” St. Louis Block Public Art Project Proposal
Lance M. Foster, Aug. 2009

[Note, Oct. 11, 2011: The building is not the Boston Block, which is south one building, but the St. Louis Block, named for the St. Louis Hotel which was connected at the rear of the building when it was first built.]

1. Letter of interest. The letter is limited to one page in length and should explain the artist’s interest in the project.

I am sure you have many outstanding and excellent proposals from professional teams and experienced muralists to sort through and select from. As a lifelong Helenan and kid who learned how to do art in Helena's schools, I am only happy to have been allowed to submit my own ideas for the project. I remember very well downtown Helena just before, and then during, Urban Renewal. I remember going to see “Fantasia” at the Marlow Theater and eating fried shrimp from Yat-Son’s Chinese Restaurant. When I was 6, we were trying to find a new place to live, and Mom called “Dorothy’s Rooms,” on the chance it had rooms for rent. Dorothy herself answered the phone, replying “Oh honey, this isn’t the kind of place you want to have your family live.” Places are palimpsests, layers of time and sometimes only a fragment remaining to show what was there originally. But there is nothing left of either the Marlow or Yat-Son’s, and while Dorothy’s and the House of Wong still stand as buildings, their functions have changed and many do not even know of their former iconic status. The erasing of former history, especially those groups considered “less desirable,” in this case the Chinese and the prostitutes, was a value embedded in Urban Renewal. My interest in the project is very much a part of my personal history and memory of Helena and the importance of remembering EVERYTHING.

2. Current resume. If submitted as a team, a current resume should be submitted for each team member.

Adjunct professor, Fine Arts, UM-Helena College of Technology
Graduate, University of Montana and Iowa State University
Artist-In-Residence, Lewis and Clark County Historical Society

3. Project description accompanied by visual representation (drawings, maquette, photographs, and/or computer presentation, materials list and timeline.

Materials list given in 4b below. Timeline: Initiate project on announcement of selection (August 2009), completion in one month’s time, end of September 2009.


Arch 1, west surface (Ceramic; Chinese characters for “Helena”)

Arch 1, east surface (Dorothy’s Rooms)

Arch 2, west surface (Chinese takeout carton)

Arch 2, east surface (Feng Shui gate)

Arch 3, west surface (Urban Renewal)

4. Materials and installation: Describe the anticipated materials and installation process. Include information that will help facilitate the artistic integrity of your work:

a. Describe your design concept.

Site-specific to within a stone’s throw of the site- even more site specific than “Helena” or “downtown.” In my project, I propose to restore a part of the palimpsest of community memory, symbolized by the Chinese and Dorothy’s Rooms. The interaction of the Chinese and Brothels in Helena, and their image in popular culture: urban renewal, Chinese feng shui gate as a guardian to the inner world of the Chinese and redlight communities, Chinese takeout carton as both popular stereotype and community memory (House of Wong across street and Yat Son next door), the infamous round bed and article about Big Dorothy—all behind a fa├žade of dragon and phoenix representing Yin and Yang, matching the color scheme of the immediate environs. The casual observer sees only what the community wants to be seen. The arched doorways symbolize entrance into the past through stereotyped images: the Chinese takeout carton, ceramic vessel (dragon and phoenix), and feng shui gate, in the case of Helena’s Chinese population, and the famous round bed and newspaper clipping, in the case of Dorothy’s Rooms. The huge missing sections of images represent the fact that though we think we know the facts, the truth, we never really do, not unless we ourselves were part of the hidden community ourselves. We believe we enter the past, but there is always the greater part the remains unknown. The iconic image of the garage and car during Urban Renewal reminds us of that process that still reverberates to today.

b. Describe the materials to be used in your project.

Acrylic paints

c. Describe the installation process.

Grid on arches
Transfer designs within grid, use of step ladders

d. Describe any special equipment needed and maintenance required.

Ladders, rollers
Maintenance: Annual spraying/washing off salts from paint surfaces

5. Preliminary budget (typed, one page maximum): Include a cost estimate for all facets, including but not limited to artist fees, insurance, travel expenses, materials and supplies costs, fabrication and installation costs.

Materials and supplies - $3000 ($1000 of materials donated by artist)
Insurance - $200
Travel – Helena resident

6. Up to five images of previous work (slides or jpeg files on CD-ROM), accompanied by a descriptive list.

IMAGE 1: “The Guardian.” Acrylic on canvas. Many cultures believe that powerful, even frightening, images of angels and deities serve as protectors and guardians of holy places. On one side, there is an approaching summer thunderstorm (protection of the sacred) with the eagle, and on the other is the night sky of winter (purification).
[Media: Acrylic on canvas]

IMAGE 2: "Ishjinki Vincent Itaro Waduje wok’un ke (Trickster gave his friend Vincent an ear of corn)." Acrylic on canvas. In western society, the artist is thought of as a marginal figure, and in the worst cases, prone to eccentricity and even madness. In traditional societies, the artist is an integral part of social life, expressing the inherent values of the society. The Trickster is an ambivalent figure, but one of the good things that he does is cure madness. In this painting, we see what might have happened if the quintessential “mad artist” Vincent Van Gogh would have had the friendship of Trickster. After Vincent cuts off his own ear, Trickster offers him the replacement ear…of corn. And a happy and healed Vincent teases him back, with the rabbit ear sign behind his head and tsk-tsking him for the joke. And in the background, the crows of madness fly away to the sunflower/sun under the framework of the world.

IMAGE 3: “Tilth.” Media: Wood and panel board; metal toy; acrylic. Tilth is the structure of the soil, seen in the stratigraphy of the earth beneath our feet, like layers of a cake. We start reading from the oldest layer, which is buried deepest, at the bottom, and then work our way up. In this example, the oldest layer is "Nuxe" (NOO-khay: ice), laid down by the glaciers, and then "Ni" (NEE: water, the melting glaciers and erosion), then "Maya" (MAH-yah: the earth built up by the sunlight and decay of plants). Finally, the last layer includes the bodies of those ancestors, "Washige s’age" (WAH-shee-gay S-AH-gay) who have gone before. On top, as we grow our crops and make our city, do we remember the tilth of the soil, made by ages and the bodies of those who have gone on before us? The toy tractor emphasizes how transient and small we are in the scheme of things.

7. Proof of liability insurance ($1,000,000).

Forthcoming if selected

8. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope with accurate postage to ensure return of your application materials or make other arrangements to have your proposal returned to you.

Will pick them up after selection process is over.

9. Optional. Include up to three selections of support materials such as reviews, news articles, catalogues and other related information.

Article from Helena Independent Record


Lance M. Foster
320 E. Broadway #4
Helena, Montana 59601

1 comment:

prairie mary said...

I think your designs are brilliant, Lance. Truly I hope they realize that they're both playful and meaningful.

Prairie Mary
(Mary Scriver)