Community upset over defaced sculptureby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
Residents of St. Paul's east side are trying to figure out how to deal with what police are treating as a hate crime. Several weeks ago, a vandal or vandals swept through a local park and defaced a popular sculpture.
St. Paul, Minn. — The sculpture is called "Meditation." It's an enormous hunk of Minnesota limestone carved into the gentle face of an Asian woman.
The vandalism occurred in July during the Dragon Festival, an annual celebration of Asian-Pacific culture at Lake Phalen.
Somebody attacked the sculpture with blue silver spray paint, covering its face with the initials "KKK," swastikas, and an anti-Asian slur.
Maintenance crews who discovered it early the next morning immediately covered it with a tarp, but that didn't lessen its impact.
Jix, 21, of St. Paul comes to the park's amphitheater two or three times a week to practice his break dancing. The concrete platform he and his friends use to bust their moves is almost under the shadow of the sculpture.
Jix says he enjoyed seeing the woman's peaceful face whenever he visited, and was disturbed to find out it was vandalized.
"It makes you feel kind of hated and not wanted here, pretty much. I don't get why people are like that sometimes, because you know, like we get along with everybody that comes around here too," Jix said. "We don't make any hate remarks or anything like that, but I don't get why they do something like that."
"Meditation" is the creation of Lei Yixin. Lei is a world-renowned Chinese artist who carved it while taking part in "Minnesota Rocks," an international stone-carving exhibition held on the lawn of St. Paul College in the summer of 2006.
Its massive but somehow delicate features have had a calming presence in Phalen Park, according to Dragon Festival organizer Evelyn Lee.
"It exudes an aura of peace and beauty and a loving gesture," said Lee. "You think of rock as being something hard, but the effect is actually totally soft and embracing."
A panel discovered Lei through the Minnesota Rocks exhibition, and chose him to carve a towering Martin Luther King memorial in Washington D.C.
Many complained the commission should have gone to an African-American artist. But the panel claimed Dr. King would have approved of the selection, because he believed so strongly in bringing all people together.
The layers of irony are not lost on Christine Podas Larson, president of St. Paul Public Art, which owns Lei's sculpture in Phalen Park.
"As I look at what happened here, that is exactly what Martin Luther King was standing up against," she said.
Podas Larson says she's sent Lei an e-mail to inform him of what happened to his sculpture, but hasn't been able to reach him yet.
She says the community is organizing a ceremony on Aug. 15, to start the process of healing and to begin restoring "Meditation," which is still covered up.
"There will be a limited and very carefully done opportunity for people to carefully view, and not shield their eyes from what happened," said Podas Larson. "But they also will have an opportunity to personally participate in the first phase of cleaning."
Podas Larson says people will also be encouraged to express hope, or say a prayer for the perpetrators, to help them "get in touch with their better selves."
She says the process of removing the paint from the sculpture will be painstaking and time-consuming.
"We're going to have to come out here twice a week, until the snow flies," she said.
And the restoration will be expensive. Podas Larson estimates it will probably cost $10,000 or more.
- All Things Considered, 08/06/2008, 5:50 p.m.