C Cleveland

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I'm a big fan of art museums. I like to wander for hours amidst different time periods and mediums, stopping to linger in front of pieces that move me and scratching my head at others.

I know some people feel intimidated by the formality of the galleries and that, unfortunately, makes them avoid them altogether.

That's why I love public art. You can't hide from it's "in your face" existence. Sometimes, it's temporary, appearing in response to a conflict that's occuring in a region while other times, it's commissioned by the government or a land owner.

There's generally no placard telling you what the artist was feeling when they created the piece. It usually has a name and an artist's name and the interpretation is up to the beholder.

One of my favorite displays of public art in Cleveland is the FREE sculpture.

The dimensions of the "world's largest rubber stamp" are 28 ft 10 in (8.79 m) by 26 ft (7.9 m) by 49 ft (15 m) and it sits in Willard Park. I think it's fair to say that "FREE" is pretty easily interpreted.

It represents liberty and independence and was commissioned by Cleveland's Standard Oil Corporation (SOHIO) in the 1980's. It was to be proudly displayed outside their headquarters on Public Square in downtown Cleveland. Sounds simple enough, right?

Um, wrong.

As designers Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen began construction of the sculpture, SOHIO changed hands and became British Petroleum (BP). BP wasn't very keen on having a pop-art sculpture right outside their front door so they gave the artists the opportunity to relocate it somewhere else downtown.

Well, Oldenburg and Van Bruggen were not pleased about that and so, halted production and placed already completed pieces of the sculpture in storage. Years later, BP management questioned why a large amount of money was being spent to store this huge stamp and interest in it resurfaced once again.

The designers were brought to Cleveland to choose a new space and agreed that Willard Park, outside City Hall, spoke to their artistic message. Just when it seemed like a solution had been found, then City Council President George Forbes opposed the installation. This time, the designers threw their hands up and threatened to destroy it completely.

Luckily, Council President Forbes' reign of power ended and the new Mayor and City Council President negotiated with BP to donate the sculpture to the city and house it at Willard Park.

The original sculpture was to represent an upright self-inking stamp, but the turmoil of the years reinspired Oldenburg and Van Bruggen to lay the stamp on its side, representing how it was "tossed" from its original home on Public Square and "landed" in Willard Park.

Aerial view


  1. Neat, and an interesting story too. Thanks!

  2. I wasn't aware of all the drama of the FREE stamp. And here I call myself a Clevelander. For shame.

  3. What a great piece of art. I can't believe so many people wouldn't want to have it on there doorstep. I sure as hell would.

  4. Thats pretty cool. It's sad to say but I aint real big on art museums. I haven't been in one since middle school. I think DaVinci was a teen then. I guess I lack a bit of class. I do like the nature museums and historical places. I do like some of the public art as long as I can somewhat understand it but some of it makes me think HUH??

  5. I love the free stamp! My favorite sculpture downtown is the one where the statue is reaching his hand up toward the sky...I don't know the name of it. Do you know which one I'm talking about? It's somewhere near public square. I LOVE that one. :-)

  6. You ALWAYS share the most interesting bits of history of Cleveland, girl!

    I freakin' LOVE the stamp!! I mean how cool-looking is that? I like it on it's side, because I can't imagine it being positioned any other way; being able to see the FREE.

    Here in Philly we have a landmark similar to this piece of art work. It's a HUGE clothes pin that sits across from City Hall.

    Thanks for sharing, Chrissy! Enjoyed this.

    Hope you're having a great weekend.


  7. Great little tale of art's neverending struggle in the public forum. Kind of interesting that the "FREE" stamp began with an oil company! (I'm feeling a bit hostage to them these days.)

  8. Wonderful C Cleveland entry, Chrissy! Fascinating story to go along with a great work of public art.

  9. I LOVE IT! That is MY kinda art. What a shame that it took so long and caused such angst before it could be displayed...

  10. @Cogitator,
    Glad you liked it!

    See what you learn from reading the newspaper cover to cover?

    It was BRITISH Petroleum so they must be too fancy for it.

    @Simply Suthern,
    See? It made you think. Even if all you thought was, HUH?

    YES! I love that one. By Key Tower. I think it's a veteran's memorial. It looks so dramatic at night when it's lit up.

    Hey! I looked up the one in Philly and it's the same designer. Cool!

    @Dreamfarm Girl,
    Maybe the second oil company didn't want any of us to get any ideas. :-)

    @CatLady Larew,
    Thanks! I love getting the "story" behind things.

    I know but it really is much more dramatic lying on its side. I guess it was worth the angst.


C'mon, you know you want to say it..

Blogger Template created by Just Blog It