‘Soul Pole’ artwork outside the Douglass-Truth Branch to be deinstalled and evaluated for restoration
release date: 04/14/2021
Due to age and exposure to the elements, the Soul Pole, a historic artwork that has stood tall outside the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library for almost 50 years, will be deinstalled in late April and assessed for the possibility of restoration. Updates on the project will be posted at www.spl.org/SoulPole.
The 21-foot wooden sculpture, gifted to the Library in 1972 by the Seattle Rotary Boys Club, was carved by six young community artists in the late 1960s to honor 400 years of African American history and the struggle for justice in the United States. The Library will work with Artech Fine Art Services, an organization with extensive experience in the restoration and preservation of artwork, to deinstall the piece and transport it to an art storage facility, where an extensive assessment will be performed.
“Once we have more information about the potential for restoring the Soul Pole, we can develop a plan,” said Andrew Harbison, interim director of Library Programs and Services. “The Library knows how important the Soul Pole is to the history and culture of the Central District and the greater Seattle community.”
The Library is working with community stakeholders to share information about the project and, once the assessment is complete, the results.
In a statement, Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, president of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, highlighted the importance of the Soul Pole.
“At the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, we deeply appreciate the preservation efforts by SPL to assess the condition of the Soul Pole that depicts 400 years of African American history. Currently more than ever, the Soul Pole represents a beacon of pride that anchors the history of Black people to Seattle's Central District. As assets are razed and vanishing from the Central District, with some recognized as historic footprints, it is our combined responsibility to act as good stewards of the art and culture that define our community. When SPL does what it takes to assess and preserve the Soul Pole, it signals a proactive commitment to solidify and honor the significance of the past to acknowledge the future of more than a pole.”
According to documents from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Soul Pole was created in 1969 as part of a summer arts festival associated with the Model Cities Program to bring attention to African American history. It was installed at the Yesler Branch Library just three years before it was renamed the Douglass-Truth Branch, after Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.
A Seattle Daily Times article from Aug. 1969 says that the Rotary Boys Club youths who carved the Pole were Cindy Jones, Gregory Jackson, Brenda Davis, Larry Gordon, Gaylord Young and Gregory X, the club’s art director. The artists’ names are imprinted in a plaque in the brick foundation that holds the Pole, which will remain in place while the Soul Pole is being evaluated.
The Library is interested in finding and contacting the artists in order to learn more about the artwork and its history. If you were involved in the project or have information to share, please contact Andrew Harbison, the Library’s interim director of Programs & Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updates about the project will be posted at www.spl.org/SoulPole.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE DOUGLASS-TRUTH BRANCH
In addition to the Soul Pole, the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library has a large collection of African-American literature and history. The African-American Collection 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 now been digitized as the Black Culture and History Collection.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY
You can keep up to date on Library programs and services at www.spl.org/RoadtoReopening. Limited in-building services will be available at the Lake City, Southwest and Beacon Hill branches starting April 27. Visit the Library's Road to Reopening page for more information on Curbside Service, book returns and other 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 during this challenging time.