A photo of a replica of the Hindu god Ganesha recently made it to the front page of the Coeur d’Alene Press. It qualified as hot news because some confused Constitutionalists were protesting the presence of what they saw as a godless idol, not fit to be on the street corner of Sixth and Sherman in all-Christian USA.
It was quite telling that the protesting Constitutionalists were vastly outnumbered by art aficionados earlier this month at the ceremony introducing the Coeur d’Alene Arts Commission’s new ArtCurrents project.
“Ganesha” (the artwork, not the idol) was one of 15 sculptures selected by the Coeur d’Alene Arts Commission after inviting local artists to lend their art works to the city for a year.
The sculptures are for sale by their artists, with the city set to receive a 25 percent cut for every sale. It’s a pretty smart way to turn the streets into pocket art galleries, benefiting everyone with an eye for art and economics.
Added to the newly hung petunia baskets, the handsome sculptures help dress up Sherman and Lakeside avenues for summer visitors and summer-hungry residents.
Ganesha is indeed strange-looking to our American eyes. The head of an elephant sits on top of an overweight human body with two busy arms and hands protruding from each side of its body, all of which is riding astride a mouse.
As for the Constitutionalists who were aghast at this invasion of a non-Christian deity, they have been thoroughly chastised in editorial columns and letters to the editor. Writers have made it clear that freedom of religion is pretty basic to the American way and, incidentally, the United States Constitution.
Noting Ganesha’s elephant head, witty David Larsen suggested the protesters were only partisan Republicans who objected to Hindus stealing their mascot.
Turns out, Ganesha is the Hindu Lord of Success, whom all Hindus, regardless of their class or sect, come together to worship. In the gospel according to Google, Ganesha is “both the beginning of the religion and the meeting ground for all Hindus.” Supposedly, Ganesha is beloved and considered one of the five principal Hindu deities.
The image by Spokane artist Rick Davis appears to be an appropriately accurate reproduction of the elephant god, in keeping with its authentic symbols and story. If Ganesha is truly the deity that all Hindu sects can agree is worthy, such an ecumenical success is surely deserving of our respect.
Our history of Christianity down through the ages has shown a greater tendency for sects to splinter than to come together.
Since most of us are not into idol worship, it’s important to note that “Ganesha” on Sherman is a work of art, which would be a great addition to someone’s home, office or garden.
As would “Moon Song,” a lovely sculpture by North Idaho College instructor Michael Horswill, made of welded steel in the shape of a quarter-moon with musical strings.
“Otter Woman,” by Jerry McKellar, appeals to our affection for otters. That would have pleased my mother-in-law, who said she would like to return in her next life as a sea otter, to float all day on her back, happily clapping at her abalone shells.
Coeur d’Alene artist Theresa McHugh created “Buds Ripple,” an upright curving form in shades of blue and green that represents the life force of living things.
Other works feature superb animals — bear, moose, elk, heron. “Big Time II” is a giant working clock. I can’t attempt to describe every sculpture. Each one of these art works has its own special charm.
The Coeur d’Alene Art Commission, Chairman Fred Ogram and City Recreation Director Steve Anthony are to be commended for sparking and carrying out a project that will make the downtown streets livelier and more interesting.
Year by year, Coeur d’Alene is becoming more and more of an arts center, boasting both first-class visual and performing arts. Full disclosure requires that I admit to membership on the Coeur d’Alene Arts and Culture Alliance Board.
My agenda in writing this is to share my enthusiasm for the ArtsCurrents endeavor, and to encourage folks to plan a walking tour of Sherman Avenue to see these interesting, impressive works by artists who are creating right here in our regional orbit.
Most of these works are executed using expensive, high-quality methods and materials that also require a great deal of time and skill. Hence prices are princely; most of us cannot afford to purchase a sculpture for our own private pleasure. That is the great benefit of public art, which is there for everyone to see, enjoy, love or hate.
I even like the religious debate. It called attention to a Hindu god most of us hadn’t heard of. Now we won’t forget Ganesha, and thanks to Reuters News Service, news of the protests went around the globe. Some folks in India may even be saying, “You know those folks in North Idaho are sure lucky Ganesha is not the god of revenge.”
Read the City of Coeur d’Alene’s brochure for the ArtsCurrent project. Mary Lou Reed lives in Coeur d’Alene.