Seward Johnson’s sculptures “Celebrating the Familiar,” which appeared suddenly at Fillmore and O’Farrell, surprised me. The day before they hadn’t been there and then there they were: mariachis strumming their guitars; a woman reading to her child; a man grilling hot dogs; a soldier holding the flag, just home from war, being hugged around the knees by his daughter.
The pieces are entirely bronze. The Seward Johnson website says that the skin on the pieces is a traditional bronze patina, and the opaque colors come from the type of paints used on airplanes. The figures are resistant to climate conditions. Each is coated with a thin film of incrylac and a final coating of wax. Johnson’s “people” also live in New York, Osaka, Houston, Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Paris and even Istanbul.
I delighted in the suddenness of their appearance in my world, in their ordinary human pursuits. To me, they looked like what people mean when they talk nostalgically about simpler times. They certainly brought to mind the notion of “American values” old style.
Not long after these figures showed up, the Supreme Court, wittingly or not, began undoing the familiar past and expanding the legal definition of marriage, to include what we in San Francisco find somewhat commonplace – love between same-sex couples. Someday when statues that celebrate the familiar appear in the public square to represent American values, wedding rings will be prominently depicted in gold or silver as men embrace men and women embrace women. Married men will push their bronze buggies holding their smiling bronzed babies and women married to women will watch their sons or daughters play stickball or kick soccer balls. And people passing these sculptures in public places will smile, perhaps remembering the excitement of those bygone days. Recalling what it felt like to be present for the momentous legal shift in this country. And if such sculptures appear in this city, some will recall that same-sex marriages resumed a day or two before the annual Pride Parade, an event that drew millions of cheering Americans to this city in celebration.
Kate Kendall, Executive Director of The National Council for Lesbian Rights celebrated the Supreme Court decision with a reminder that in many places relationships and families of same-sex couples are not respected.
“There will still be many places in this country where stigma, lack of dignity, hostility, and harassment are daily realities. But … those who are bigots, haters, ignorant, or cruel—their days of having power over us are numbered … those who would deny our humanity are outnumbered by those who embrace us.”
So I could almost wish that someday a bronzed Fox News pundit could be seated for eternity at his bronzed news desk, smug and wrong. Passersby could shake their heads, remembering that once there were people who disseminated fear and ignorance and pretended it was information. Those who stop to smile may recall how love and marriage won over fear and ignorance.