A monumental friendship
UTA artists reflect on works for Arlington and its German sister city
For starters, even though he has exhibited his art for nearly 30 years, both nationally and internationally, he had never worked on a collaborative project. And he'd never been to Germany.
"We had no idea what we were going to be doing, no sense of where we were going to work," he recalls of the project three years ago. "Working in the studio, you have a sense of control, but this was a mystery."
At least the UTA art associate professor knew two of his fellow artists: Associate Professor Benito Huerta, curator of The Gallery at UTA, and Arlington artist Celia Munoz Another American artist, former Arlington resident Patti Sutherland, joined them from her new home in Italy.
None of the Texans spoke German. Some of the German artists spoke a little English.
"We had a very limited time to work?only 18 days," Wood said. "It was exciting, but at the same time there was a certain level of tension. We knew what we were creating would be there permanently, representing a remarkable 50-year friendship between these two cities."
That friendship began in 1951, when Bad Koenigshofen City Manager Kurt Zuhlke visited America with a group of German city officials. One of his colleagues had a pen pal in Arlington, so the two Germans included the city in their itinerary. During his visit, Zuhlke told then-Mayor Tom Vandergriff about his small, ancient (first mentioned in documents of 741 A.D.) Bavarian hometown, located a few miles from the border that had just been established between East and West Germany.
Hundreds of refugees from communist East Germany had flooded into the little town. There was a critical shortage of literally everything.
After hearing of the plight, the city of Arlington and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce "adopted" Bad Koenigshofen. On Nov. 29, 1951, Vandergriff wrote Zuhlke that volunteers had gathered several thousand pounds of clothing, bedding, canned food, thread, needles and other necessities and that more than 100 Arlington residents were working on aid committees.
On Feb. 1, 1952, a railroad car left Arlington and was transported without charge by Texas & Pacific Railroad to New Orleans and then shipped to Germany. It was the first of four shipments from Arlington that ultimately assisted more than a thousand people and helped restock supplies in schools and hospitals. In gratitude, Bad Koenigshofen renamed its city park Arlington Park.
Fast-forward 49 years. The public sculpture project was coordinated by the Arlington Museum of Art. Bad Koenigshofen artist Christine Wehe-Bamberger had worked in several collaborative efforts and was the catalyst on that side of the ocean.
The finished monument, titled "The Bridge," was unveiled July 14, 2001, to an audience that included an Arlington delegation. Festivities featured a concert by the UTA Jazz Orchestra.
But for Wood, Huerta and the other artists, the job remained half finished.
The artists, who had bonded while working together in Germany, began collaborating again in June 2003, this time in Arlington. Noted the Museum of Art's curator, Rachel Bounds: "The project was, from the beginning, planned as a dual project--one monument in Bad Koenigshofen and one in Arlington."
The second monument was dedicated in July 2003.
Arlington provided the site: Gene Allen Park, directly behind the Municipal Building and beside the Arlington Museum of Art. All the funding was raised privately, and the artists donated their time.
One of the German artists could not make the journey due to failing physical strength.
"This man fought in the German army in World War II," Huerta said. "He was captured twice, once by the Russians and then by the Americans. He said the Americans were far more kind."
As with the first monument, the artists felt a deep commitment to the project. City of Arlington social capital coordinator Lynda Freeman, chief fund-raiser for the Arlington monument, said the artists pored over thick scrapbooks recording the history of the cities' long relationship, in search of inspiration.
"The monument in Germany is about history. It celebrates the international friendship's beginning 50 years ago," Freeman said. "The artists wanted this monument to be about the future. The engravings on it are words and phrases in German and English taken from the scrapbooks, from American songs, from German songs. Just an amalgamation of words that reflect the idea of peace and friendship."
— Sue Stevens