Bruce Beasley’s enormous metal 'Big Red' – which has been described as looking like two figure 8s having a tug of war – still brightens up the south side of Washington Jefferson park. Photo by Bob Keefer.

When Art Mattered

Six big-name sculptors came to Eugene in 1974, and some of their art still lingers

In 1974, the late Jan Zach, an internationally known sculptor teaching at the University of Oregon, pulled off a big idea. Gathering $145,000 in grant money (nearly $1.2 million in today’s little dollars) he invited six big-name sculptors to spend six weeks in Eugene and work in public, turning the town into an open studio for the Oregon International Sculpture Symposium. 

Sculptors Bruce Beasley, Roger Bolomey, Hugh Townley, Dmitri Hadzi, Bernard Rosenthal and John Chamberlain made art, gave talks, hung out with local artists and partied hearty. 

Best known was Chamberlain, an associate of Andy Warhol who proposed for his Eugene project a “cubic acre” of 400,000 wrecked cars next to the then-proposed Lane County Public Service Building. Sadly, the county turned his idea down, or Eugene might still be on the art world map. He also showed a porn film he had made with Ultra Violet for his public presentation at City Hall.

“Eugene? I don’t remember it,” Chamberlain said in an interview decades later. “Sort of, I guess. I think I liked it because I got out of New York and could breathe fresh air and ride my bike. But I drank my share and your share and a few other people’s share while I was there.”

Four of the artists made public sculptures you can still see today — the best known is “Big Red,” the giant metal dumbbell in Washington Jefferson Park — but the symposium’s greatest legacy is that Eugene, at least for that magic moment, took art seriously.