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The Uproar over the Venus Statue
 
It began as a kindly, thoughtful act of a humble man. Carroll L. Moores was an elevator operator who worked in Salem’s State Supreme Court Building and wanted to do something to honor the gallant souls who founded Oregon. In 1938, at this death, he left his life’s savings of $25,000 to pay an annuity to friend, with the residue for a monument or memorial to be erected in memory of the early Oregon pioneers.

By 1953, the sum prudently invested had grown to $34,000. Expert advice was summoned - Thomas C. Colt Jr., Director of the Portland Art Museum, and former Portland resident Pietro Bellushi, Dean of Architecture of M.I.T. They found Salem was already supplied with statues of pioneers, culminating in the one on the top of the Capitol building. Why not pay homage to pioneers more subtly? Colt and Bellushi suggested the purchase of the statue called "Venus Victorieuse" by Renoir from the Valentin Gallery of New York for $18,000. Salem would be among the few cities of its size (population 44,000) to possess a work of this distinction, so universal in spirit and appeal. Venus was bought and paid for, and her "picture" was published.

That’s when the uproar happened. The Capital Journal newspaper called her "fat and naked". Sports fans said she had a sturdier figure than the outfielders of the local ball team. Women’s clubs thought it was undignified. Defenders were drowned out-Frederick Littman said this was a distinctive rather than a routine way of honoring Oregon pioneers. Colt said she was symbolic of "woman as the mother of the race." Art teachers tried to get in a few words; so did ex-Governor Sprague. But the uproar grew. People whose only acquaintance with Carroll Moores was probably going between floors on the elevator decided Carroll never would have approved of this.

Mr. Putnam, publisher of the Capital Journal newspaper, loved a community fight and this was a beauty. His concluding comment was, it was "just another art lover sneer at Salem for rejecting an unsuitable memorial to Oregon’s early pioneers. It was not prudery on the part of Salem citizens. The valuable free national publicity for Salem is appreciated. For most part, of our citizens prefer sneers to Venus as a pioneer memorial."

An answering editorial in the rival Salem Oregon Statesman newspaper concludes, "If we want to capitalize on this publicity, perhaps we should set up a base, bearing the label "Venus Unvictorieuse". The Capital Journal newspaper also presents a letter from the Council of National Sculpture Society emphasizing the unsuitability factors."

A more suitable statue by Salem public vote was created by Avard Fairbanks of Salt Lake City. Salem’s choice is called "Guidance of Youth" and presents a pioneer father with a hoe, a pioneer mother property attired with skirt sweeping the ground and a pioneer youth. This group statue is sited in Bush Park’s southeast corner quite off the beaten path.

"Venus Victorieuse" was purchased by Victor Carter, a businessman and art collector of Los Angeles, who loaned her to the Los Angeles County Museum, to San Francisco, and finally to Portland Art Museum where she was purchased and remains to this day. If the benefactor and retired elevator operator, Carroll Moores had been around to hear all the uproar, the retired elevator operation probably would have commented that life has its ups and downs.

Compiled by Monica Mersinger

Bibliography:
Marion County History, Volume XV, page 162-163.

 

 
Renior's Venus statue
"Venus Victorieuse" by Renoir
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