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A Sculpture Of Vast Scale, As War Memorial, as Spatial Geometry 

 The B-17 in the imagination.  The B-17 is possibly the most charismatic American military aircraft, an icon of the great struggle against tyranny and fascism in World War II.   “The Bomber” image in the collective unconscious, its inspirational, elegant and humanistic design matches the Spitfire as part of the iconography of the struggle for the Great democracies in World War II.  In the contemporary mythologies of the War, each ship’s crew of 10 seemed to be a metaphor for the coming together of a vast democractic nation against Nazism. The movies – 12 O’Clock High, and much later, Memphis Belle reflect the idea that American airmen were not robots adhering to homogeneous ideology, but individuals retaining their backgrounds, personality, and ethnicity (mostly Caucasian during the war, but still diverse among social class and background). 

Like other small, multicrew military vessels such as submarines, destroyers and tanks which projected an image of Americans from all backgrounds crewing to create an effective fighting force, the B-17 appeared in popular imagination as a metaphor for democracy itself, in heavy contrast to images from the Axis countries, which appeared to us to be highly ordered, machine-like and faceless masses.

But as a tool of War, the bomber’s functional purpose was destruction.  It was built to smash buildings and equipment and human beings, and this aesthetically-inspiring aircraft performed this task with horrifying efficiency, a power gained at tremendous risk and loss.  That the targets were part of the Nazi war machine – the most unambiguously repulsive and bloodthirsty enterprise of any human century- ameliorates and justifies but does not eradicate the reality of the Air War in World War II.   Thousands of men died heroically flying these machines, in an ultimately compassionate hope that the strategic bombing campaign would shorten the war, would save untold lives, would end the horror.  For most Americans, it was never a war of conquest and glory, but of survival and humanity.   But in that moment, many thousands of civilians below them died.  For the people in the target area of the bomber stream, only an apocalypse awaited. 

My father, stationed in Frankfurt in 1946, brought home photos of the rubble and stories of the post-war life, and when we traveled through Europe 30 years later,  he could point out bomb damage in many cities.  These operations had killed, at a massive scale, obliterating men, women and children in fire and explosions and turning living cities to dust, smoke and stones.   These ancient cities today appear so modern because the destructive power of the Flying Fortress, the Liberator and the Lancaster had erased much of the past.  The fear and pain of the victims of bombing were as real as the awe and hope these flights brought to the citizens of the democracies. 

Moral and political reflection among combatants and citizens and their descendants on all sides must attend the history of war.  It was, after all, the diseased values of fascistic militarism, not only untroubled by the immense suffering it inflicted but reveling in it,  that brought so many millions to their deaths.  I learned this lesson most clearly from men who served in World War II, who saw what war was, what it did to the innocent, and whose wisdom remains urgent.


\Action Plan:


a)       Refine and create initial design. 

b)       Build 1/10th scale partial model of  tower structure and mobiles.

c)       Gauge interest among aviation history, arts, and general community.

d)       Gain feedback from artists, engineers, and arts and historical curators.

e)       Recruit a volunteer support team and development committee.

f)       Write and circulate development plan.

g)       Locate and estimate design resources and necessary technical expertise.

h)      Estimate materials resources, costs, and expertise. 

i)        Estimate start-up costs.

j)        Estimate substantive development costs.

k)      Identify potential financial and development support sources.

l)        Circulate Project Prospect proposal.


 Length: These flights were said to take an entire hour to pass over a single point.

 Seattle. The B-17’s historical importance to the war and to Seattle in particular can hardly be overstated. During WWII, the population of Seattle increased by nearly 200,000 – for construction of ships and aircraft. With over 5000 made locally, the B-17 was a historical turning point for the company, which had gambled on the design, and for the city, whose economic character shifted from logging and fishing to technology and engineering – the B-17 seeded the maturation of Seattle as a city, the post-war explosion of industrialization, creativity, and education.  If I introduce the B-17 into a conversation with someone from the Northwest, frequently a story will follow: a father who served, an engineer who started his career, a worker’s family who emigrated from the rural south.  The B=17 was the prime catalyst for what Seattle would become. 

Cost Considerations

          Much estimation work is to be done depending on the interest in the concept.  The primary materials cost, construction, materials, and assembly of the support structure, will require professional study based on a more finalized design.  The most advanced form of this design calls for ½ mile of a very open, “quonset-hut” or cathedral shaped, unroofed set of towers and light support beams akin to curved radio towers in form.  A somewhat related structure are the open arches at the Seattle Center. These would be far more elongated, and far lighter. 


1)       The small-scale models themselves will be relatively inexpensive, as will most of the support materials with the exception of the main supporting towers, which may be thin, but will require precise fabrication. As an example, 1500 toy B-17s of this scale can be purchased retail for about $10,000.

2)       One advantage to the design is that individual towers will support a mobile of a group of bombers: the tower and its mobile of models stands independently and can simply be repeated.

3)       Site use costs must be determined. The large scale involves possible disruption or inconvenience to the site, might include lease fees.  

4)       Artist Fees, skilled labor fees. These fees should be comparable or lower than Artist fees for other public art projects of a similar scale and type. Skilled labor fees may be reduced considerably or virtually eliminated by volunteer labor interested in helping with such a project, but this requires experienced volunteer management.  

5)       A “guess list” of cost areas is included here:

a)       Bomber models, materials

b)       Bomber models, fabrication

c)       Supporting tower structures, materials

d)       Supporting tower structures, fabrication

e)       “Ceiling lattice” (The arching forms akin to elongated intersection lines in a double=vaulted ceiling) materials

f)       “Ceiling lattice” fabrication

g)       Managerial costs

h)      Installation costs

i)        Artist Fees

j)        Fundraising costs 

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Jamie Bollenbach, M.F.A. University of WA, 2002

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