David Eisenhower Resigns from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission

David Eisenhower and Frank Gehry -- Source: Eisenhower Memorial Commission

Immediately after The Washington Post reported the Eisenhower family’s increasingly vocal opposition to Frank Gehry’s design for the Eisenhower Memorial, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission announced that David Eisenhower had resigned from the Commission. This is extremely significant since David was the Eisenhower family’s sole representative on the Commission.

Note that in the 1960s, when the ugly officially chosen design for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was opposed by the Roosevelt family, the memorial’s architects resigned their commission.  If the Eisenhower Memorial is constructed, it will be the first national presidential memorial built without the support of the president’s family.

As the Post reported in the story mentioned above:

“We have some serious concerns about the design,” said Susan [Eisenhower], 59, one of the four grandchildren of the 34th president of the United States. They have sustainability concerns. Logistical concerns. Aesthetic concerns. . . .

“We understand that not everyone cares what we think,” said Susan, an energy specialist and Washington area resident who has a commanding presence reminiscent of the president she calls “Granddad.” “The truth is we care [about] what we know, and I don’t think my grandfather would be comfortable with the scale and scope of this design.” . . .

The controversy surrounding Gehry’s concept stems from what he calls “the barefoot boy” from Kansas, a phrase taken from Eisenhower’s homecoming speech in Abilene, Kan., after the Second World War. Focusing on his childhood rather than his accomplishments is an unexpected approach to memorial design, and to the Eisenhower family, it is inappropriate.

“I just don’t think Dwight Eisenhower is remembered because he was a barefoot boy from Kansas,” said Susan. “When I look at this memorial, I don’t see any bit of him in it.” . . .

Most of the concerns stem from the planned 80-foot tapestries and large steel columns, 11 feet in diameter, that will frame the memorial’s four-acre park. Made of woven steel, this metal curtain is the focal point. Many people assumed that these tapestries would showcase images of Eisenhower’s life as general and president. Instead, they will show images of the Kansas landscape in winter, in keeping with the “barefoot boy” theme. . . .

It’s a radical change in memorial design for a man Susan says “embraced traditional values.” . . .

Susan Eisenhower and her family, who she says are “all on the same page,” would prefer a simpler, more traditional design, one that depicts their grandfather’s accomplishments. . . .

“Any memorial should memorialize the person who, in theory, is being honored,” said Susan’s sister Anne Eisenhower, 62, an interior designer in New York. “Our grandfather was a very serious person. He’s not an artist or someone who would warrant a totally new avant-garde design.”

The article also quoted Kirk Savage, a scholar of national memorials:

Savage also thinks memorial designers can now take liberties with some historical leaders. A figure such as Eisenhower lends himself to greater experimentation: “Eisenhower was a commander, an authority figure,” said Savage. “It’s easier for Gehry to play around with him. Memorial designers could never have portrayed Martin Luther King as a boy. It would have been considered highly offensive. The fact that the statuary of a boy can even be proposed shows that we take [Eisenhower’s] stature for granted.”

One Response to “David Eisenhower Resigns from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission”
  1. rosario perry says:

    I think Frank Gehry is more concerned with making a statement for himself (via controversy) than in fulfilling his commission to create a tribute to the President. The mistake, of course, was in hiring him in the first place. He hasn’t done anything which could not have been predicted.

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