In recent years, virtual galleries have joined public squares and quiet cemeteries as venues to enjoy sculpture at your leisure without pretense. Unsigned work speaks for those remembered in a very unique way. It allows those who produce it to participate in the result with a level of fulfillment many other artists do not fully comprehend. Lasting achievement is more significant than the mortal individual.
Someday, walk with a Master Sculptor through a favorite old cemetery or public square and you’ll better understand. Click here 2012 Picture Tour with Giuliano for a virtual visit to Hope Cemetery. The heritage of our work is largely an oral history surviving only as long as we recall and share it. Old tools record our solitary struggles. Completed sculptures reveal our inner self, even if we remain anonymous. Together, these works reflect an unchanging view into the world of their origin and the people who created our society.
Does 100% Made in USA really matter anymore?
Art survives through patron support. The arts supported help define our culture. Thus patron choices convey a strong message to future generations. Stone sculpture has provided an enduring means of cultural representation throughout the centuries. How do you want to be remembered? Will your memorial be a legacy of your patronage to our way of life or an example of what destroys it? The choice made will endure. Many USA companies gladly sell poor quality imported products while claiming such hand carved work cannot be done in the USA anymore, even though most know differently. The fact is the only true obstacle is greed.
How can national heroes or veterans be properly memorialized by those outside their culture and shared experience- in fact, even sometimes by those of adversarial ideologies or countries? When our most important monuments are deliberately but needlessly outsourced by a select few, the negative impact is even greater.
This phenomenon is not limited to our time, culture or country. It is a common practice in colonization- physical, economic, ideological, political or otherwise- over the history of mankind. Illegitimate outside interpretations become the new standard of reference. In this way, any people’s collective achievements in art, society, culture and liberty are progressively lost. The newly-constructed Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial stands upon our National Mall in Washington DC as recent example.
Made In China- The Outsourcing of the MLK National Memorial
For decades, my immigrant family and predecessors in the USA Granite Industry fought for workers’ rights through venues like Barre’s Old Labor Hall. Other contemporaries, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated as he fought for fair treatment of African American garbage collectors in Memphis, struggled towards civil rights equity for all. Their sacrifices led to widespread reforms long ago here in the USA, but my stone peers in Asia, India and Africa still have nothing like minimum wage, OSHA or Workman’s Comp protection. Often unknown to the customer like our immigrant relatives or those Memphis garbage collectors, my contemporary industry peers in China’s stone carving factories suffer and die only because others want to profit.
Lacking community vestment and integrity, such imported work will never be celebrated as a true Master like Giuliano regularly does with the old work in the famous Hope Cemetery. In such places, Giuliano traces our roots in this craft as our legacy extends into the future. Works of art cut by our families and mentors are visited regularly like good friends. These timeless images of him with legendary African American fine artist Gilbert Young, the founder of King Is Ours, were taken on that important day when we stood together calling for the MLK National Memorial to be 100% Made in the USA. Until it is properly replaced, the current MLK National Memorial can never be celebrated as an American memorial to an American Hero.
Our efforts to properly repatriate the MLK Memorial on behalf of the American people and the USA Granite Industry, published internationally by the media over several years, are too numerous to list here. We simply told the truth, no matter how damaging it was to the guilty parties or what they called us. Looking to my heritage and beloved Master Sculptors, I took the fight and Gilbert to the enduring traditional center of USA granite sculpture in Barre, Vermont. Greatly shaped a century ago by immigrant workers fighting as new Americans for a better life and fair treatment, the city reputedly named by the winner of a fistfight provided both platform and support to our cause.
Granite Workers: ‘King Is Ours’ and Outsourcing of King Monument called a “travesty” provide coverage of our historic event in Barre when major granite industry unions, trade organizations and elected public officials first stood together with us to demand change. The list of nationally and internationally recognized Master Sculptors and Craftsmen standing with us on that cold November 2007 day reads like a who’s who of the very best in the craft- Giuliano Cecchinelli, Andy Hebert, George Kurjanowicz, Stanislaw Lutostanski, Eric Oberg, Jim Sardonis, Gary Sassi, Jerry Williams, Angelo Ambrosini, Phil Paini, and others. The Barre Granite Association, Elberton Granite Association, Monument Builders of North America and Rock of Ages also joined our fight in a effort to properly represent and preserve our domestic granite industry capabilities. Numerous municipal, state and federal entities joined us, requesting equitable opportunity for constituents and formally investigating why this project was being purposely steered out of our reach.
Athens Online Made In China MLK Statue and Ga.’s granite industry wants to provide stone for MLK provide salient counterpoint to token involvement of USA “consultants” whom only provided cover for those responsible, not advocacy or true opportunity for capable USA artists, artisans or companies. Gilbert and I shook hands and made direct personal appeal to then-Senator Obama in July 2008 for help in this matter to no avail. Gilbert Young’s 2011 DryerBuzz.com Interview and my comments in Christian Science Monitor’s “MLK Memorial: From China with love?” provide perspective in later years.
It required a 9-month formal investigation by the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General at my request and subsequently 18 months of Freedom of Information Act requests and appeals to learn via a heavily redacted report how the MLK Foundation had for years been conveniently misleading the general public about $10 Million in federal monies appropriated but never used. This maneuver allowed the memorial to be assumed by the media and public as government sanctioned and fairly directed while it actually remained privately funded to be legally and deliberately outsourced without any open bid process. Even though the government held these funds for many years in a special account and the project remained significantly in debt until long after dedication of the widely-criticized statue, MLK Foundation officials refused to complete the simple paperwork to take possession of this significant public funding. If they did so, an open bid process would be required by federal law and opened the door to true opportunity for American companies and individuals.
A bogus “design competition” funded in part by a $50,000.00 NEA grant ensured the MLK Foundation comparable conceptual project control. The original winning design firm had unknowingly employed as chief consultant one of the primary developers of the design competition guidelines. First, he was recruited and specifically utilized by the MLK Foundation to help craft the rules to produce a memorial consistent with Dr. King’s legacy. He then left this position there during the competition period. As a widely recognized MLK scholar, he was then recruited by a major firm as consultant to aid development of their entry concept. Not surprisingly, their entry won over all others. After the entry was made, he immediately returned to his position at the MLK Foundation for the duration of the project. The other 900+ entrants from America and around the world each paid $75.00 entry fee but had little if any chance of winning. It is hard to imagine this was simply a coincidence. To this day, the firm strongly refutes any inappropriate prior knowledge or deliberate wrongdoing, but the MLK Foundation and this expert scholar never have.
Many were critical across the USA at the continuing exclusion of Americans. While project officials denied any controversy and the public was continuously told how this project could not be done by Americans, strict confidentiality clauses in contracts restricted the few Americans contracted during the project from advocating for greater opportunity for fellow citizens, artists and artisans.
Standard protocol through the US Commission of Fine Arts, as well as required CFA review and opinion, was all but ignored from start to finish. Repeatedly, MLK Foundation officials substantiated their choice of Lei Yixin as Sculptor of Record upon the basis him being uniquely and specifically qualified to sculpt granite in such dimensions. Comparably qualified and willing USA sources, directly contacted by MLK Foundation officials prior to Yixin’s hiring, were never allowed to participate. Promises to send American apprentices to China to participate in the sculpture work were not fulfilled. If they had been, it would have exposed the fact that Lei Yixin never carved the giant granite statue. He simply sculpted Dr King in clay and then subcontracted all carving of the granite MLK Portrait Statue to “stonemasons” including stone sculptor Wang Xiangrong and his team of over 20 workers at a stone carving company in Quanzhou Hui’an County, Fujian China.
Numerous American artists and experts named as project consultants proved to be only cursory figureheads. Their consultant duties only included a few phone calls made through interpreters, not in-person visits to properly guide sculpture development. The cumulative lack of basic accountability, integrity and traditionally required project oversight by the MLK Foundation and its representatives resulted in a monumental failure. The 30 foot tall statue of Dr. King was mistakenly carved with a left-handed posture after a reversed photograph was employed in the beginning of the process and by the time this was realized, the lead architect said “the sculpture was too far along” to correct it. For the final statue installation, contracts were crafted and enforced by project directors allowing skilled American Workers to be legally kicked off the project while unpaid foreign laborers were transported to America to take their place and formally sequestered- essentially as modern day slaves– to erect the memorial to Dr. King.
Even though his role was kept largely unreported until the very end of the project, celebrated American stone carver Nick Benson was contracted to carve only the lettering upon the completed memorial statue. He then helplessly watched the National Parks Service order removal of these MLK Foundation reinvented-and-approved but inappropriate words by the sculptor for a cost nearly as high as the reported original commission award for sculpting the statue, further removing any trace of American craftsmanship on this foreign stack of stones. The corrupt and self-serving “achievements” by the MLK National Memorial Project Foundation Inc. were no accident.
This historic national tragedy shows how ultimately, unless we all work together, we all lose something no matter how difficult it was to achieve. Dr. King, the only common man so memorialized upon our National Mall, is now forever compromised by the biased and self-serving choices of others. Most are memorialized in a smaller but no less significant manner to the ones they love. Surrendering the greater good for selfish personal gain can have tremendous long-term implications. Passing years has brought steadily increasing support of our platform, from the public and even those in our stone world who chose to sit out the fight but now apparently desire to remain relevant and appear more favorable in the eyes of history. All are left to imagine what could have been achieved if honorable Americans had worked as hard to achieve this project together as was done to keep it segregated from each other. In the end, the true national memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was our efforts to do what was right and not what was easy.
So does 100% Made in the USA matter anymore? We know it does and hope you will, too.