Friday, June 28, 2019

Guidance of Youth and the Ideology of Pioneer Mother Monuments

Guidance of Youth, Bush Park
A friend of the blog saw a Salem statue, "Guidance of Youth," in a notice for an interesting history talk sponsored by the Lane County Historical Society. Cynthia Prescott will be giving a pub talk in Eugene on "Myth and Memory in OR's Pioneer Monuments" on July 15th.*
Prescott is Associate Professor of History at the University of North Dakota and author of Pioneer Monuments in the American West. Her current project Pioneer Mother Monuments: Constructing Cultural Memory will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press in Spring 2019.
In Salem:
May 23rd, 1919
A different Pioneer statue on the UO campus has been in the news this spring, and so the subject is a timely topic in Eugene.

Last month the Daily Emerald wrote:
[I]n the early 20th century, pioneers were depicted in statues across the country to “valorize” their achievements.

On the day of the statue’s instillation, May 22, 1919, the president of the Oregon Historical Society gave a speech to dedicate the statue that praised the Anglo-Saxon race and its ability to assimilate other races and cultures to become a part of it....
In 1919 it was big enough news that Salem newspapers covered it also.

But interestingly, the lead image for the pub talk is not that Eugene Pioneer or any other statue in Lane County, but instead is "Guidance of Youth," the statue in Bush Park, right here.

And it happens that "Guidance of Youth" appears prominently in Prescott's book, Pioneer Mother Monuments, as well as on the home page of the book's blog, the monument database, and sections on the sculptor, Avard Fairbanks, and the cluster of pioneer monuments in the Willamette Valley. So it has a substantial place in the book's argument.

The publisher blurbs the book this way:
In recent years, Americans have engaged in heated debates about Confederate Civil War monuments and their implicit racism. Should these statues be removed or reinterpreted? Far less attention, however, has been paid to pioneer monuments, which, Prescott argues, also enshrine white cultural superiority—as well as gender stereotypes. Only a few western communities have reexamined these values and erected statues with more inclusive imagery.
"Guidance of Youth" provides the lead and structure for Chapter 3, "Memory and Modernity in Postwar Family Monuments, 1940 - 1975."

Salem is featured in Chapter 3
Prescott stresses that
it speaks volumes that Fairbanks declared the iconic white pioneer woman as representing not only "real Westerners," whose ancestors had carried Anglo civilization westward, but also all "true Americans," whose identity had become inextricably linked to western mythology by the 1950s.
On an exclusionary concept of "real Westerners"
Any ideology or racial politics behind the statute has not been much discussed. Indeed, most attention has been given to the way "Guidance" displaced a Renoir nude. The sculpture is cited as an example of prudery and provincialism, a casualty of moralizing politics, and a missed opportunity for high art. In an interview with the Director of the Salem Art Association, at Salem History Matters they write that she would like
to see Salem capitalize on the "art in the park" tradition began with the c1930 [it was actually in 1958] installation of the pioneer statue in the rhododendron garden at the park's southern section continue with placement of more public statuary throughout this walkable park. If you didn't hear Sandra's description of the missed opportunity Salem had to have a genuine Renoir sculpture installation, I'm sure someone over at the Bush Barn Art Center would be happy to fill you in!
Maybe. But perhaps also we should do more to give historical context and nuance to a statue we might no longer uncritically celebrate. If the City is serious about a closer relation with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, we will want to think more deeply about statuary like this and the ideology it expresses.

400 Kalpuya mounds just in the Calapooia River watershed!
Lewis Judson described Kalapuya house pits
near South High (Marion County History, vol. 8, 1962-64)
This is not at all an isolated case. We have our pioneer mythology, origin myths, and erasures around Jason Lee**, William Willson, and Asahel Bush. The museum at the Mill is all about "heritage," most of which is understood as pioneer heritage.

And in the run up to Memorial Day, it was a little shocking to see naked appreciation for a Confederate in Pioneer Cemetery. While the cemetery is now a city park and is public, the grave marker is private and is not itself a city-sponsored public monument, so the situation here is a little different than with "Guidance of Youth." Still, there is erasure and mythmaking. Its subject (who for the moment will not be named) was at Fort Pillow, and may have participated in the massacre. It is an interesting and historical fact he lived in Salem and is buried in the cemetery, and we should know more about this! But the tribute in this specific and treasonous flag, and the fact that his son, also a Colonel and buried up in City View Cemetery, was not similarly honored with a US flag, suggests this was not an instance of familial piety for Memorial Day but was ideological praise for an immoral politics, a hateful heritage we should censure, not honor. Here too more context would be helpful.

An unfortunate flag in mid-May of this year
(US flags have not yet been placed, only this one)

Was at Fort Pillow, in fact
It was great to be alerted to the talks in Eugene and Portland. "Guidance" has just seemed dull, a kind of pioneer kitsch, bad art justly hidden in the bushes. But it is more than this. And it participates in the wider 20th century ideological project of myth-making and nostalgia around settler colonialism. It's not the same as a Confederate statue, but it might be more uncomfortably adjacent than we would like to think.


* Prescott will also be in Portland at Oregon Historical Society on July 14th. She has no Salem date published. The Mill should engage her for a talk since she's in the area!
** It's his birthday, today, by the way.  

Addendum, July 28th

The Register-Guard has a front page piece in the Sunday paper. Though its primary topic is the University of Oregon, and secondarily references OSU, without directly discussing them, it also uses two photos from Salem: the Pioneer, "golden man," on the top of the Capitol dome; and the "circuit rider," Robert Booth, in Willson Park.

July 28th RG, front page

3 comments:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Huh. It's a dishonorable Tennessee State Holiday today and Slate reproduced the report on Fort Pillow from the Congressional Joint Select Committee on the Conduct of the War.

"It will appear, from the testimony thus taken, that the atrocities committed at Fort Pillow were not the result of passions excited by the heat of conflict, but were the results of a policy deliberately decided upon and unhesitatingly announced."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with clip from the Register-Guard.

Cc said...

Fascinating.