Council, Portland Arts Agency Clash Over Oregon Trail Statue

PORTLAND - The manifest destiny of a statue depicting a rugged pioneer family has created quite a dust-up.

The Oregon Trail Coordinating Council commissioned the $200,000 statue, "The Promised Land," by nationally known artist David Manuel, and offered to donate it to the city. Manuel's sculptures honoring the U.S. Marshal's Service are displayed at the Justice Department and the White House in Washington.

He found no such appreciation of his work among members of Portland's arts commission, which said the bronze statue featuring a Bible-carrying Christian family to be culturally insensitive and of little artistic merit.

"The depiction of the subject matter was found to be an inappropriate and inaccurate representation of the settlers of Oregon, excluding the many other races and religions," the arts commission said. "It is also insensitive to the history of the indigenous people of the area."

Members of the trail council, created by Gov. Barbara Roberts, can't figure out what all the fuss is about.

"We set out to do a memorial to the pioneers of 1843 . . . and that's what we have, pioneers that made it in 1843," said Joyce White, the council's development director.

City worker Art Alexander told the arts commission the statue represents a "whitewash of the truth."

"A more appropriate statue might be titled `Receivers of Stolen Property' and would depict laughing European-American men standing on Native-American corpses with pieces of torn up treaties scattered about . . . ," he wrote.

Manuel said he would like to have represented other cultures in the statue, but was prevented by time and money.

White said her group probably will appeal to the City Council to keep it in Portland.

Meantime, Manuel said he has been inundated with calls of support, which has made the criticism bearable.

"It bothered me a little bit but, hey . . . You can't please everyone."