Soul Pole: 2022 Preserving Neighborhood Character Award
Congratulations to The Soul Pole!
The Soul Pole is a historic artwork that has stood tall outside the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library (SPL) at 23rd Ave & E Yesler Way in Seattle’s Central District for almost 50 years. The 21-foot wooden sculpture was gifted to the library in 1972 by the Seattle Rotary Boys Club. Carved by six young community artists in the late 1960s, it honors 400 years of African American history and the struggle for justice in the United States.
At 50 years old, the Soul Pole’s wooden structure has weathered many seasons. With its condition deteriorating, the artwork became a safety concern in recent years, prompting a partnership between the Black Heritage Society of Washington State (BHS) and SPL to oversee the restoration of the beloved Soul Pole.
In 2021, SPL contracted with Artech Fine Art Services, an organization with extensive experience in restoration and preservation, to deinstall the Soul Pole and evaluate it. The pole was relocated to their shop, and Artech collaborated with well-known conservationist Corine Landrieu on a plan to repair, stabilize, and protect the sculpture. Realizing its historical signiﬁcance, the focus of the project was to preserve the Soul Pole as close to its current form as possible for generations to come.
SPL and BHS worked closely to research the history of the Soul Pole and the artists (all Rotary Boys Club youths) who carved it. According to documents from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Soul Pole was created in 1969 as part of a summer arts festival associated with the Model Cities Program to bring attention to African American history. SPL and BHS remain interested in garnering information and stories related to the Soul Pole to expand archives at both organizations. Family members and friends of the artists have come forward to share their memories, including the supportive leadership at the Rotary Boys Club.
With community and neighborhood invested, and the community’s desire to follow the preservation process, a partnership was formed with Converge Media to document the restoration project, including its deinstall, conservation, and reinstallation. The conservation work was successfully completed in late 2021, and the sculpture was reinstalled at its historic home on the Douglass-Truth Branch lawn in April 2022. The sculpture is now prepared to withstand several more decades of exposure to Seattle weather. The sole visible alteration to the Soul Pole is a zinc cap placed atop the sculpture to protect it from rainwater. SPL is in the process of adding an additional plaque alongside the original plaque at the Soul Pole’s base to share more information about the conservation project and the history of the artwork.
In a neighborhood that has seen many changes inﬂuenced by gentriﬁcation, the Soul Pole is a tangible symbol that claims space and honors the African American history in the heart of Seattle’s Central District.
Cheers to the Soul Pole partnership team for saving this important piece of history and earning the 2022 Preserving Neighborhood Character Award!
Owner: Seattle Public Library
Community Advocacy/Project Lead: Black Heritage Society of Washington State
Conservation Partners: Artech Fine Art Services, Landrieu Construction, Converge Media
Feature image of Soul Pole Reinstallation Ceremony with Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, Elijah Mu’ied, and TraeAnna Holiday. Second image courtesy of Artech. Third image courtesy of Seattle Public Library.