Artist's Statement

Coleen Mullins

The current spate of monument removals in the United States has focused primarily on Civil War era figures, whose depictions rose during the Jim Crow law era. However, my interest over the last two years has landed on the removal of the statue of William McKinley in Arcata, California. What interested me was that President McKinley, was a lifelong abolitionist, and fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War. And on February 28, 2019, this effigy became the first of a president of the United States removed from public view.

Sculpted by Armenian immigrant, Haig Patigian, who went on to lead the notorious Bohemian Club, the statue has survived exceptional threats, such as near destruction at the hand of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. But it has spent more time as a mascot than a known entity. Interviews with area residents resulted in the knowledge that nobody knew who the statue was of, let alone the record of that figure. This is a layered story, filled with para-fictions, and truths that eventually led to a historic return of native lands to a local tribe.

Employing historic imagery, news clippings, archival materials, social histories, and my photographs, I weave together an examination of the issue of monument removal, with the Patigian portrait of McKinley as the center of a conversation that went from the absurd to the miraculous, questioning what we think we know in the contemporary recasting of history, with a post-colonial eye on the past.

I have enclosed images of a book maquette, as the interstitial material is integral to the overall work.