The Soul Pole Standing Tall Again at the Douglass-Truth Branch

Soul Pole being lifted up before being restalled On Tuesday morning, April 5, a small crowd of neighbors, Library staff and journalists gathered outside the Douglass-Truth Branch to see a very welcome event: A forklift lowering the carefully wrapped 21-foot tall Soul Pole artwork into its base on the lawn of the Library.

Soul Pole close-up
A close-up of the Soul Pole as it’s being lowered into its base
The Soul Pole standing tall again at the Douglass-Truth Branch
The Soul Pole standing tall again at the Douglass-Truth Branch

The Soul Pole has stood tall in that base since 1973, minus the last year, when it was temporarily taken down for conservation work. It was returning home.

By 1 p.m., the workers from Artech Fine Art Services finished unwrapping the Soul Pole and bolting it into its base.

At 2 p.m., under mostly blue skies, the Library hosted a short program to honor the Soul Pole’s history and conservation work, featuring speakers with deep connections to the Central District community and the history and significance of the Soul Pole.

Watch the whole program below or at SeattleChannel.org.

Chief Librarian Tom Fay presented welcoming remarks, noting how grateful the Library was to see the Soul Pole standing tall again at 23rd and Yesler. Continue reading “The Soul Pole Standing Tall Again at the Douglass-Truth Branch”

The Negro Motorist Green Book Exhibition: March 19 – June 12, 2022

The Negro Motorist Green Book exhibition opens this Saturday, March 19, at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. This immersive, multimedia exhibit was curated by Candacy Taylor, former Harvard fellow and celebrated Green Book scholar, for the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service. The Green Book was published between 1936 and 1966 and became the bible of Black travel during the Jim Crow era, a time when racial segregation was legally enforced in the South, and discrimination was rife in the North and West as well.

This was also the age when the automobile became increasingly important in American life as a symbol of freedom and recreation. But for Black motorists, the experience of the open road was far less free than for whites. Travel for Black people was difficult, undignified, and dangerous. Black travelers were denied service at hotels and motels, at restaurants, at gas stations, and struggled to find places to simply use the restroom, or worse, faced intimidation and violence in “sundown towns.”

Close-up of the cover of the 1939 Green Book. Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The Green Book was created by Victor Hugo Green, a Harlem postal worker and entrepreneur, to help Black travelers and vacationers find businesses that would welcome them. According to one memoirist, “You literally didn’t dare leave home without it.”

In many places where there were no hotels or restaurants serving Black customers, Black entrepreneurs, many of them women, ran tourist homes by renting out rooms in their private residences and serving homemade meals. The Green Book demonstrates the creative response the Black business community had to the problems of segregation, discrimination, and violence in travel, and provides important documentary evidence of Black businesses and neighborhoods. Continue reading “The Negro Motorist Green Book Exhibition: March 19 – June 12, 2022”

Soul Pole Stories: Conservation and Restoration

A section of the Soul Pole at the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library
One of the figures carved in the Soul Pole. The sculpture was designed by Seattle Rotary Boys Club artists to represent 400 years of African American history in the United States.

As mentioned in our “first Soul Pole story,” the historic sculpture at the Library’s Douglass-Truth Branch in the Central District was deinstalled in 2021 so that it could undergo conservation work.

The goal was to preserve the piece so that it could be reinstalled at its original location at the corner of 23rd Avenue and E. Yesler Way, and available for the community to enjoy for decades to come.

The Library contracted with Artech Fine Art Services, an organization with extensive experience in restoration and preservation, to manage the project. They worked with Corine Landrieu of Landrieu Conservation, one of the Northwest’s top conservators.

A woman wearing a mask talking about a tall wooden sculpture called the Soul Pole
Conservationist Corine Landrieu explains her work on the Soul Pole, with a focus of preserving “the integrity of the object as much as possible.”

Now that the conservation work is complete and the Soul Pole will soon be reinstalled, we asked Corine Landrieu and Artech’s Kate Dawson to share highlights of the project, and what visitors will (and will not) notice about changes to the Soul Pole after it stands tall at the Douglass-Truth Branch once again, representing 400 years of African-American history.

How has the Soul Pole’s cultural importance informed your approach?

Kate Dawson: The Soul Pole’s cultural significance and its great value in the community informed the route that we took and, of course, the great care and amount of work that went into this project. Including a conservator like Corine was an important piece of that plan. Corine has worked on many projects with culturally significant objects.

We knew from the beginning that maintaining community access was a key goal – making sure that visitors could continue to see the Soul Pole outside Douglass-Truth and interact with it. So we were looking for that balance of preserving it in a way that it could still be interacted with in its original spot. Continue reading “Soul Pole Stories: Conservation and Restoration”

Recent Books Celebrate Magnolia Branch Architect

The life and work of architect Paul Hayden Kirk, designer of The Seattle Public Library’s Magnolia Branch, is commanding renewed interest due to the publication of two new books: Paul Hayden Kirk and the Rise of the Northwest Modern by Seattle author and filmmaker Dale Kutzera, and Paul Hayden Kirk and the Puget Sound School by Grant Hildebrand, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Washington.

Kirk was a pioneer and leading light of the distinctive Northwest modernist architectural style that flourished between the 1940s and 1970s. This style was influenced by a traditional Japanese aesthetic and emphasized simple and elegant designs that fit into the natural landscape.

Our Magnolia Branch is exemplary of this style, with its hallmark use of long beams of natural wood and large windows that fill the building with light and invite the outside in. Continue reading “Recent Books Celebrate Magnolia Branch Architect”

Soul Pole Stories: Q & A With Stephanie Johnson-Toliver of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State

 

The Soul Pole at the Douglass-Truth Branch

If you’ve been to the Library’s Douglass-Truth Branch lately, located in the heart of Seattle’s Central District at 23rd Ave. and E. Yesler Way, you might have done a double take. The Soul Pole, the totem-pole-like wooden sculpture that has stood on the lawn of the branch since 1973, is gone.

The 21-foot sculpture, which the Black Heritage Society of Washington State (BHS) has called “a beacon of pride that anchors the history of Black people to Seattle’s Central District,” was deinstalled in April 2021. After decades of withstanding Seattle weather, it had deteriorated in condition and become a safety hazard. Working with Artech Fine Art Services, the Library embarked on a project to assess its condition and see if it could be repaired and conserved.

We have good news to share: The Soul Pole will return to its historic spot in the next few weeks. With Landrieu Conservation, Artech was able to complete a conservation project on the Soul Pole that has prepared it to withstand several more decades of Seattle weather.

While the Soul Pole has been down, the Library has collaborated with Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, president of BHS, to gain new insights into the Soul Pole’s history. In the first of a short series on the Soul Pole, Stephanie  shared her perspective on this project:

Stephanie Johnson-Toliver of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and Elijah Muied, the son of Raqib Mu'ied (formerly Gregory X)
Stephanie Johnson-Toliver of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and Elijah Muied, the son of Raqib Mu’ied (formerly Gregory X); Raqib was art director for the Seattle Rotary Boys Club in the late 1960s and worked on the Soul Pole.

Continue reading “Soul Pole Stories: Q & A With Stephanie Johnson-Toliver of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State”