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Soul Pole Preserved for Generations

The 21-foot Soul Pole, gifted to the Library in 1972 by the Seattle Rotary Boys Club

Soul Pole, an important piece of Central District history will be reinstalled in front of the Douglass Truth Library this February. In the summer of 1969, as part of President Johnson’s Model Cities Program (which ended in 1974), the Soul Pole was carved in a month by five teen artists, aged 14–16: Brenda Davis, Larry Gordon, Gregory Jackson, Cindy Jones, and Gaylord Young and was led by Seattle Rotary Boys Club Art Director, Raqib Mu’ied (formerly Gregory X).

One of the figures carved in the Soul Pole. The sculpture was designed to represent 400 years of African American history in the United States.  

Soul Pole represents “a beacon of pride that anchors the history of Black people to Seattle’s Central District.”

Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, president of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State. The Black Heritage Society has been working closely with the Library to research and understand the history of the Soul Pole, including making connections with family members of the original sculptors.

The 21-foot sculpture honors 400 years of African American history by using four figures to represent significant moments of the Black man’s experience from primitive, to slavery, to liberation.*  Soul Pole was gifted to the Library in 1972 and installed at the branch in 1973. For more than 50 years the pole has welcomed residents and visitors to the neighborhood for years, but the inevitable wear and tear of time and weather took a toll on the artwork. 

Conservation intern Jennifer Beetem, who worked with conservationist Corine Landrieu on the Soul Pole project, works on an area of the Soul Pole at the storage facility of Artech Fine Art Services, which managed the deinstallation, assessment and conservation project.  

While it is being restored by Artech Fine Art Services, (updates here) we all look forward to seeing it standing once again as a beacon for the Central District. Seattle is home to over 400 permanently sited public artworks and conservation starts with the inception of a project. Public artworks symbolize traditions, authenticate oral histories, illustrate tragedy, and triumph, and commemorate the departed. Art can honor the tireless dedication and inspire ongoing activism.   

After it was deinstalled from the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library, the Soul Pole was transferred to Artech’s storage facility, where it was assessed and a conservation plan developed. The work has focused on preserving the Soul Pole in as close to its current form as possible for generations to come. Artech is an organization with extensive experience in restoration and preservation, to deinstall the Soul Pole and evaluate it.

Frequently conducted out of view of the public, with fluctuating methods and often indiscernible results, the conservation and maintenance of artwork is a practice that must appear elusive in many respects but is ultimately grounded by the guiding principles of preserving cultural heritage and the hidden histories within for future generations. 

It is only by maintaining and conserving cultural property that we can continue to strengthen our understanding of the importance of individual cultures and their contributions and provide a relatable conduit through which to embrace history through interpretation and reflection. 

 *South Seattle Emerald, Where did the Soul Go? 

Converge Media, #SoulPole