No Capitalist, Lenin Isn't For Sale - But You Can Try To Rent Him

I met Lew Carpenter, an Issaquah resident of diverse interests, through a mutual acquaintance we have, Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov.

Neither of us knew him, but we had read about him. Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov carried on his work under various names. But that of Vladimir Lenin is best known.

Statues of him were in every town. His picture was in more Soviet households than you would find crucifixion paintings in Little Italy.

There was a state-imposed reverence of him in Russia. If Marx was the philosopher of worldwide communism, Lenin was that system's first CEO.

He ruled Russia from 1917 until his death in 1924. Once in power, he ordered executions of the czar and his family, and any shirttail relatives they could bring in.

He presided over the deaths of landed gentry, the aristocrats and anybody else who had gathered up too many kopeks.

Lenin was ruthless. But the Russian people were taught to worship him. Hence all those statues.

But as you know, something funny happened to communism about 1989. Over 76 years, there was growing evidence that that communism didn't work. It was the East European economic disaster of the 20th century.

So what happens when you build a guy up like that? You make a bum out of him, use him as a scapegoat. Statues of Lenin came tumbling down as though some celestial bowling ball had hit each Soviet city and satellite.

Which brings us back to Lew Carpenter, the Issaquah fellow

mentioned above. Carpenter is a man of many interests, but perhaps his own business card explains him best:

"Mercenary - Playboy - Soldier of Fortune - Casual Hero - Philanthropist."

This congenial fellow, tongue poking out his cheek, says he has dealt in everything from used cars to fly swatters, church supplies to contraceptives, sex films to revivals.

"Services With a Man of Breeding," his card says, and plainly he has laughed his way to the bank a few times.

"I came across this statue of Lenin in Slovakia," he says. "Slovakia is the east part of what used to be Czechoslovakia. It was in the city of Poprad.

"The bronze statue of Lenin was lying in a storage yard of a local foundry. There was a homeless man living in it. He even had a stove inside."

The Slovakians told Lew they were going to melt down Lenin and make park benches out of him. This aroused Lew's entrepreneurial instincts.

He ended up buying Lenin for $13,000. "Above the table," he adds, implying that a few Slovakian palms had to be greased. Lenin was cut into three parts in order to ship the gigantic likeness. Before he got the statue to Issaquah, Lew was out about $40,000.

Lew says he's had one serious offer for Lenin. "It was for $180,000," he said. "The man who wanted to buy the statue is a wealthy collector in Seattle. If I told you his name you'd recognize him immediately. But the statue is not for sale."

Lew adds that a foundry man in Walla Walla has told him that to duplicate the statue would cost about $250,000. "My former wife, who is a graduate of Cornish, says that just the starting figure for this statue would be about a quarter-million."

When in Slovakia, Lew got friendly with the sculptor, Emil Venkov, who had won a lot of Soviet prizes, even though the Soviet bureaucrats didn't like Emil much.

But Venkov won a competition and created the Lenin statue in 1981. When he cast the statue, Venkov put a base on it showing guns and bayonets.

The Soviets objected. They wanted Lenin holding a book, portraying him as handing out candy to children. This is second-hand and through a language barrier, but what Venkov told the Soviet bureaucrats in effect was this:

"Look, you guys didn't win a revolution in 1917 with books and candy. You did it with guns and bayonets."

The Soviets, reluctantly, acceded. Now this Lenin statue, 16 feet high and weighing seven tons, stands in Carpenter's back yard. It looks gigantic. Lenin is leaning forward, looking fierce and dedicated. Two more pieces have to be welded on before Lenin is complete again.

"Venkov is coming to Seattle in October," Lew said. "When the statue is put together, he will run the final grinds on it. I would like to arrange for him to teach a class in sculpting here. I think that would be a fine thing."

Once again, he emphasized, the Lenin statue is "not for sale." But Lew would rent it to any museum with access to a heavy-duty helicopter. Lenin is quite available; you could put him in Seattle Center or use him to replace the "Hammering Man."

"Anybody who wants him, Lenin is for rent," says Lew. "You can have a Christmas Lenin or an Easter Lenin. It all depends on who wants him."

Emmett Watson's column appears Sunday and Thursday in the Local section of The Times.