Completion Date: TBD • Portland, OR

Two Liberty Ship bow remnants, with massive holds of concrete, currently reside on the riverside awaiting disposal or new purpose. Placement of the hulls on the South Waterfront Greenway installs these artifacts as sentinels. Sculpturally, these elements represent the transfer and acceptance of gravity and the embrace of mass and suggest shipyard inventory either during their making or their dismantling along the Willamette River. The pair of hulls illustrates the new paradigm of sustainability and stand to remind us of the utility and grace of transforming “swords into plowshares” for the healing of the earth.

A community “bilge” pump is planned to be sited on a plaza adjacent the two Ship hulls. The pump would be connected to an existing reclaimed water source and, rather than metaphorically bailing out a ships bilge, the pump draws reclaimed water into a sculptural fountain expressing regeneration. The act of pumping is not only an exercise opportunity, but invites a civic sense of stewardship, while enhancing the adjacent reconstructed riveriene habitat. The intensity of the pumping activity is rewarded is the sculptural fountain expression.

In 1941, during World War II, Henry J. Kaiser opened Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation in Portland, Oregon. This facility was built to construct Liberty Ships, merchant vessels that were desperately needed to deliver war materials overseas. Kaiser developed methods for prefabricating and mass producing Liberty Ships that allowed ships to be produced at a rate faster than they were lost, maintaining a steady stream of supplies to the front. In 1944 when Liberty Ship construction came to an end, 322 Liberty Ships had been built at Oregon Shipbuilding yards, more than any other shipyards in the country. The first Liberty ship built at Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation was the Star of Oregon. In 1946, the Zidell Ship Dismantling Company of Portland, Oregon, began shipbreaking, dismantling many of the World War II Liberty Ships for scrap steel which was in high demand for rebuilding America's industrial base in the postwar period. Two Liberty ship bows that currently rest on the Zidell shoreline along the Willamette River in Portland are some of the last remaining relics from this historic time.

During construction of the Liberty Ships, it was customary to fill the bottom of the bow with concrete to provide ballast. When it came time to dismantle the ships, this infill of concrete prevented effective scrapping of the steel from the bow and keel area of the ship creating a waste disposal problem that often resulted in the burying of the bows. With a publicly cited art installation, the liability of disposal is transformed into an asset, as these hulks are elevated to sculptural sentinels of this time and place.

© 2004 Buster Simpson

Site Design by Todd Metten

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