Watch ‘The Legacy of the Soul Pole,’ Converge Media’s New Film

The Soul Pole has stood tall outside The Seattle Public Library’s Douglass-Truth Branch for almost 50 years. Now, the 21-foot tall artwork – which the Black Heritage Society of Washington State has called a “beacon of Black pride” in the Central District – is starring in a short documentary produced by Seattle’s Converge Media.

In the 10-minute film titled “The Legacy of the Soul Pole,” Converge Media, a leading producer of culturally relevant content in Seattle and across the Pacific Northwest, follows the Soul Pole over a one-year period starting in April 2021. At that time, the artwork was deinstalled from its historic spot at 23rd and East Yesler Way in Seattle’s Central District, because of concerns over deterioration. It was reinstalled in April 2022 after successfully undergoing conservation work.

The film will be promoted today, June 14, on the Converge programs “The Day With Trae” at 11 a.m. and “Truth With Proof” at 11 p.m.

“For us at Converge Media, documenting the story of the Soul Pole was a labor of love,” said Omari Salisbury, founder of Converge Media, in the press release. “Converge Media was born in the Central District of Seattle and many of us on staff including myself grew up going to Douglass-Truth as children and we remember how mighty the Soul Pole was and the story it represents: To be front and center through this amazing process to yes, restore the Pole, but more than that, to reaffirm that the Central District is still the cultural and historical epicenter for Black culture in the City of Seattle and beyond. We want people to know that this film was not commissioned by The Seattle Public Library or any other funding source. We were able to tell this very important Black history story with assistance from the generous supporters of Converge Media, who believe in the value of community storytelling and uplifting of the Black experience in Seattle and to them I say thank you and we offer you the ‘Legacy of the Soul Pole.’”

“We are grateful to Converge for creating an extraordinary film that sheds light on the Soul Pole’s past, present and future, and to the Black Heritage Society for their support in the research and preservation of these stories,” said Tom Fay, Chief Librarian of The Seattle Public Library. “Everyone who has an interest in the untold stories of Seattle should watch this film, and then go visit the Soul Pole at the Douglass-Truth Branch, where it stands tall once again.”

“The Soul Pole represents the tenacity and significance of the African-American footprint in the Central District. This is a beacon on this corner and I’m so proud to see it back,” said Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, president of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, at the artwork’s reinstallation on April 5, 2022, a moving moment that is included in the film. “I’m kind of fighting back the tears.”

Continue reading “Watch ‘The Legacy of the Soul Pole,’ Converge Media’s New Film”

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”

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”

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”