When I first saw the statue it was highly recognizable. From my studies of Revolutionary War history, I knew it to be a Colonial soldier. The hat, clothes and gun all fit those times. I was born in the Boston, Massachusetts area, so I grew up surrounded by Colonial history. There’s also a hazy flashback to my father’s National Guard trophy with the Minuteman soldier standing on top. The statue seems out-of-place here in the west, so far away from that old history. It now has the feel of a monument to someone who got lost a long time ago as he wandered and stumbled about in search of cheap real estate and a decent cup of coffee.
I noticed the soldier statue from the other side of Barbur Blvd. It’s a busy road with four lanes so it’s likely that I initially overlooked the Colonial Office Campus. It may have taken a second look for the colonial reference to make sense. The Colonial Office Campus is exactly what it says it is, office space for professional services used by lawyers and counselors. The statue can be found past the intersection of Capitol Hwy and Barbur Blvd heading towards Tigard.
In front of the main office park building there’s another statue. My imagination had me thinking that this one was a child of the solider. The kid, dressed in what appear to be rags, gets to stay home and frolic while his father fights the war. Online I noticed a couple of the tenants mention the statues as landmarks to help clients find their offices. So eventually it made sense: Colonial soldier, Colonial Office Campus, Colonial columns on the main building; there’s a flurry of Colonial activity in a small section of SW off of Barbur Blvd. that’s subtle and unexpected.
The detailing on the sculptures drew me in. The soldier, with his sleeves rolled up, his burly arms fiddling with his gun as he stands as well as anyone could stand with knees stuck in a block. His permanent stance graces a plinth decorated with 13 stars in tribute to the original 13 colonies. The child had been holding a light on a chain which, I was told, will be repaired.
The young frolicker was created in 1974. The Colonial soldier followed in 1976 which had me wondering if Oregon had been caught in the throes of bicentennial fever like the rest of the nation. The artist’s name, Carlton Bell, is inscribed on the base of each work. The soldier’s base also had three other names listed. It’s safe to assume they assisted on the project. Carlton Bell proved to be a mysterious figure. I found little information about him online.
My research did lead to a blog post about Portland Public Art. I would suggest anyone reading this take a look at that post too if only to see an excellent close up photograph of the soldier’s face. There was some speculation on the part of the writer of the public art blog. I know my writing for the Portland Orbit often leads me to speculate but from what I was able to gather, especially after talking to the friendly office park manager, the statues were made for the campus and not for previous businesses. The comment section offers details and stories about the life of Carlton Bell that I plan to explore in a future post. One commentator made an effort to identify the gender of the kid sculpture as male because his brother had been the artist’s model.
I like the folk art feel to these statues. They have a charm that livens up a drab section of Barbur Blvd. while adding a dash of intrigue. The soldier appears to be guarding a curve in the road or protecting against an invasion from the motel across the street. There’s a randomness that’s refreshing in the placement. A Colonial soldier, far from the pages of history, silently stands guard. My first reaction was to wonder why there were roadside statues hanging around on Barbur Blvd. The Colonial theme helped me make sense of it, and the question should really be: Why not?