Historic 'Soul Pole' Artwork is Re-installed Outside Douglass-Truth Library After Successful Conservation Process
release date: 04/05/2022
On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, the 21-foot Soul Pole sculpture was reinstalled outside the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library, after being removed in April 2021 to undergo conservation work.
“We are so pleased that the Soul Pole is standing tall at the Douglass-Truth Branch once again, where it belongs,” said Chief Librarian Tom Fay. “Because of this successful conservation effort, the community has access to this historic piece of public art once again, and it is now prepared to withstand several more decades of Seattle weather.”
“The return of the Soul Pole to its historic site at the corner of 23rd and Yesler symbolizes the restorative spirit and strength in community that grounds us,” said Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, president of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State. “The Black Heritage Society of Washington State thanks the Library for leading this conservation effort that validates and sustains the African-American footprint in Seattle's Historic Central Area Arts & Cultural District."
Fay and Johnson-Toliver both spoke at a press event today that honored the return of the Soul Pole. Adiam Emery, the City of Seattle’s Chief Equity Officer, spoke on behalf of Mayor Bruce Harrell. Emery noted Mayor Harrell’s deep personal connections to the Central District and the Rotary Boys Club, which led the Soul Pole project in the late 1960s and eventually gifted it to the Library. Emery also talked about the importance of public art and how art like the Soul Pole strengthens and builds community.
Elijah Mu’ied also spoke at the event. Mu’ied is a poet, performance artist and son of Raqib Mu’ied (formerly Gregory X), who led the Soul Pole project as art director for the Seattle Rotary Boys Club in the late 1960s. Raqib Mu’ied worked with youth at the Rotary Boys Club to carve a donated telephone pole into a design that represents 400 years of African American history.
“I was three years old at the creation of the Soul Pole in 1969, but throughout the years, it was a source of pride for me and my family,” said Mu’ied. “For my father, the Soul Pole was an artistic representation of his activism and pursuit of human equality, depicting the struggle, growth and awakening of African-American people.”
Five youth – Brenda Davis, Larry Gordon, Gregory Jackson, Cindy Jones and Gaylord Young – were primary artists, as well as Raqib Mu’ied. Most or all students attended Seattle’s Garfield High School.
The event’s final speaker was Debra Gulley-Collins, RN, the daughter of Wilson Gulley, Sr., executive director of the Rotary Boys Club from 1968-1971 and visionary for Rotary Boys Club programs. Wilson Gulley, Sr. worked with Raqib Mu’ied to conceive of the Soul Pole project, and shaped many other programs for Central District youth that helped them learn and thrive.
“We spent many hours in the Rotary Club working on the Soul Pole – chiseling, using a blow torch to burn the wood and sanding it until it was smooth – and anybody who worked on the sculpture would get a history lesson,” Gulley-Collins recollected at the event. “My dad’s vision for the Rotary Club was as a safe, holistic place for youth to learn and grow.”
Chief Librarian Fay shared details of the conservation project. The project was managed by Artech Fine Art Services, which has extensive experience in restoration and preservation. Corine Landrieu, one of the Northwest’s top conservators, directed the conservation work.
“Artech and Landrieu Conservation did exceptional work in conserving the Soul Pole in a way that would protect and stabilize it for many more years to come,” said Fay.
Visitors will notice almost no difference in the Soul Pole, but it will be prepared to withstand several more decades of exposure to Seattle weather. The one visible alteration will be a zinc cap placed on top of the Soul Pole to protect it from water intrusion.
The Library will add a plaque to display with the original plaque at the Soul Pole’s base to share more information about the conservation and honor the artwork’s history.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE SOUL POLE AND THE DOUGLASS-TRUTH BRANCH
The Soul Pole was gifted to the Library in 1972 and installed outside the Yesler Branch Library on April 24, 1973, two years before it was renamed the Douglass-Truth Branch in honor of abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.
The Douglass-Truth Branch also has a large collection of African-American literature and history, which was established in 1965 through a donation by the local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, a national service organization founded by African-American college women. Over 10,000 items are featured, and some items in the collection have been digitized as the Black Culture and History Collection
The Library continues to gather information on the Soul Pole’s history, including background on the sculptors. If you have information to share, please contact Elisa Murray, digital communications strategist at The Seattle Public Library, at email@example.com
Information on the project can be found at www.spl.org/SoulPole.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY
The Library believes that the power of knowledge improves people's lives. We promote literacy and a love of reading as we bring people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community.
Visit the Library's Road to Reopening page for more information on current Library services.
Contact the Library’s Ask Us service by phone at 206-386-4636 or by email or chat at www.spl.org/Ask. Staff are ready to answer questions and direct you to helpful resources and information.