Seattle artist Alonzo Victor Lewis poses in his studio around 1923 (adding to the proud long lineage of artists wearing berets). Behind him is a maquette for his World War I veteran sculpture, which has been vandalized at least twice, relocated at least twice, and now stands at Evergreen Washelli cemetery up on Aurora.
  • MOHAI, McBride & Anderson Collection, photograph presumed made by Ella McBride, 1974.5923.154.4
  • Seattle artist Alonzo Victor Lewis poses in his studio around 1923 (adding to the proud long lineage of artists wearing berets). Behind him is a maquette for his World War I veteran sculpture, which has been vandalized at least twice, relocated at least twice, and now stands at Evergreen Washelli cemetery up on Aurora.

Even when the artist is creating a realistic depiction of a soldier returning triumphant from war—rather than, say, a massive reflective abstraction of a despised conflict—art about veterans gets controversial quickly.

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Seattle's great case in point is Alonzo Victor Lewis's post–World War I statue Doughboy, previously called Bringing Home the Bacon, Bringing Home Victory, and Armistice.

Today, it stands at Evergreen Washelli cemetery, where it was moved about a decade ago when Seattle Opera House was replaced by McCaw Hall. Before that, the sculpture was in front of the Opera House from 1932 to 1962, then tucked behind it.

Doughboy, named after a term that originally referred to dumplings eaten by infantrymen and then to the infantrymen themselves, was supposed to earn the artist $50,000. The City of Seattle agreed the cast bronze was worth that much. But the City also said it would only pony up $5,000, and the rest should come from public subscription. That support never came; the artist was eventually paid only $9,000 total. He got his sculpture out there eventually, with the support of the City, through sheer determination and by losing plenty of money.

Yikes! That smile.
  • Courtesy of Evergreen Washelli
  • Yikes! That smile.

People didn't want to pay because they didn't like Doughboy. It's pretty easy to see why. First, the smile on his face makes him look, well, unstable. At the time, he also annoyed sailors and marines who complained he was clearly an Army man. He seemed like a poor winner, bloodthirsty and demented, smiling that terrible smile with spiked German helmets slung over his shoulder.

From HistoryLink's story:

When first unveiled in May 1932, the scurrilous helmets were still slung over Doughboy's neck, to the dismay of city councilman James A. Scavotto, who would have taken off the helmets before the unveiling "if he had to cut them off himself" (The Seattle Times). However, when the dedication took place on Armistice Day, six months later, the helmets had vanished. No one stepped forward to accept either praise or responsibility.

It got worse. In 1970, Doughboy "suffered another humiliation." His bayonet was removed from his rifle, which lopped 16 inches off the total height of the statue.

Who took the helmets? Where did they go? Are they still out there? And what about the bayonet—how easy was it to remove parts from this sculpture? Did the vandals do it under cover of night, using tools, or was this sculpture so unpopular in 1932, and so overlooked by 1970, that the sun could have shone right down on the plunderers? The photo at the top of this post (of the maquette) was the only one I could find with the helmets and the bayonet intact.

Doughboy started out more than 14 feet tall and weighing 3,500 pounds. He wreaked havoc even at his original 1932 unveiling. Evergreen Washelli's account:

To celebrate the new statue's unveiling, a loud twenty-one gun salute was issued, which shattered eleven windows in an apartment across the street! Thankfully, no injuries were reported.

Jack_Dempsey.jpg
Before we leave the subject of Alonzo Victor Lewis, there's at least one more good story to tell about his career. He caused a major stir in the summer of 1923 at the Kansas Art Institute just by the simple fact that he'd chosen to paint a boxer, Jack Dempsey. As the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported in 1923, the art museum's director was taken aback. He told the press:

I do not recall ever seeing a prizefighter painted before. My first impression was that art was being degraded, then the thought occurred that, after all, boxing is a man's game and a natural occupation.

Here's a photograph of Lewis and Dempsey in Seattle.