Lenin Moves Into Fremont -- Bronze Statue Moves From Burbs To Fremont

When Issaquah entrepreneur Lew Carpenter died last year in a car accident on Stevens Pass, he left behind grieving friends and family, a collection of antique machinery, and a 7-ton, 16-foot-tall statue of Vladimir Lenin.

Carpenter had found the bronze statue in Poprad, Slovakia, in the town dump, a toppled reminder of the communists' fall from power. The statue was slated for melting when he rescued it and shipped it to his home in Issaquah, with plans to use it at a restaurant he hoped to start.

After Carpenter's death, the statue's future again seemed murky. Last May, the town of Issaquah briefly toyed with installing it as public art, but the idea was loudly criticized by residents, and was abandoned.

But on Saturday, if all goes according to plan, Lenin will have a home again: Fremont.

"This is really a beautiful sculpture, a phenomenal piece of history," said Jeanne Muir, a member of the Fremont chamber of commerce. "It's a symbol of how art outlives politics."

The statue, which will be unveiled on Saturday just before the start of the revamped Fremont Art About, will stand on private property near another of Fremont's art landmarks: the Rocket.

"It's one de-fanged Cold War emblem, facing another," Muir said. "They'll be looking at each other bemused at where they ended up. Lenin will also be overlooking the Sunday Flea Market, which we think will be appropriate: Lenin the father of communism overlooking

micro-capitalism at its best."

But as word spread that Lenin was moving into the neighborhood, not everyone was as enchanted. "I find it in extremely poor taste," said Frederick Edelblut, a 35-year-old Fremont homeowner. "Many people are going to feel touched by this. Lenin is a symbol of 80 years of repression for the Russian people."

Edelblut is also concerned about the impact on the neighborhood.

"To have Lenin there is kitschy at best," Edelblut added. "People would come to Fremont to see it and it would benefit business, but personally I don't think Fremont needs any more traffic."

The Fremont chapter is just the latest development in the short, but checkered history of this statue. The piece was created by Emil Venkov, a Slovakian artist who won a competition to create a stone, 8-foot statue in 1978. Because of rivalries among cities vying to have the largest statue of Lenin, the statue had doubled in size by the time it was finished in 1988, and was made of bronze instead of stone.

But across Eastern Europe, the tide was turning against communists and the year after it was unveiled, the statue was toppled.

When Carpenter, a construction-company owner who had developed an interest in Slovakia after building homes for Slovakian families in the Seattle area, saw the statue, he immediately decided he wanted it.

After months of wading through bureaucratic red tape and resistance from residents who didn't want the statue sold, Carpenter had it shipped to his Issaquah home, spending $40,000 on the project.

His vague plan was to install it in front of a Slovakian restaurant he hoped to start.

Fremont's free spirits got hold of the statue after bronze sculptor Peter Bevis, the founder of the Fremont Fine Arts Foundry, was called by another artist who was interested in melting it down.

"Throughout history bronze statues have been melted down to make other bronze statues," Bevis said. "I saw it there and I thought what a wonderful piece. The way it was done, it was a picture of an intellectual standing into the future."

When Bevis learned more about the history of the statue, the statue became a personal mission.

"My own brother died two years ago in Alaska in a fishing accident and I saw my own family still grieving over that loss," he said. "I wanted to help Lewis finish his project. As it stood there in the pasture, the statue was a symbol of the pain the family had gone through."

When he learned that the family wanted to sell the statue, Bevis proposed a solution.

Under the arrangement worked out with the family, the Fremont Chamber holds the statue in trust, until a buyer is found. The asking price is $150,000. The scrap value of the bronze alone is worth $30,000, Bevis said. When it sells, Fremont's arts organization would benefit from the commission.

As for the potential controversy, Bevis is unconcerned.

"With any public artwork, somebody's not going to like it," Bevis said. "There's bound to be controversy about this because it'll bring up feelings and because that's what art should do: Touch a nerve and make you think about things."