Council seeks consensus on Asaiah statue

For once, it wasn’t déjà vu all over again at a Homer City Council meeting. Unlike in October 1990, when angry veterans came to protest reconsideration of putting an American Legion Auxiliary veterans memorial in WKFL Park, this Monday when another decision about putting a monument in the park came before the council, no one yelled. Debate was cordial and polite. 

In that spirit, the council deferred action on a resolution to accept a donation of a bronze statue of Brother Asaiah Bates that would go on a rock at WKFL Park, the land once owned by Brother Asaiah at the corner of Pioneer Avenue and Heath Street. Council member David Lewis moved and the council approved that the resolution go back to the Public Arts Committee. 

The motion asked the committee to hold a public hearing at its Feb. 13 regular meeting so that the community could reach a consensus on where the statue should go.

The Public Arts Committee at a January special meeting recommended that the city accept a donation of a bronze statue of Brother Asaiah, the man who coined the phrase “cosmic hamlet by the sea” to describe Homer. When he died in March 2000, his obituary called him “perhaps the closest thing Homer will ever have to a patron saint.” 

Homer artist Leo Vait has been commissioned to sculpt the statue, a waist-up, life-size representation. It would be cast from bronze from a plasticene sculpture. Although the council resolution said it was an anonymous donation, the original application submitted identified John Nazarian as the benefactor. The statue would cost $18,500, including foundry and artist fees.

Brother Asaiah came to Homer in the late 1950s with the Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love Fountain of the World, also known as the World Kingdom Fountain of Light. Known as the Barefooters for their practice of walking barefoot, the group built a homestead on 480 acres of land in the Fox River Valley. Helen Jackson, the last remaining Barefooter living in Homer, described the group as a humanitarian organization.

WKFL bought a machine shop at what’s now WKFL Park to work on its equipment and trucks, and Brother Asaiah later got the lot (see story, page 2). The city acquired the land in 1988 in a partial donation that paid Brother Asaiah $250 a month for life — about $36,000, less than its assessed value, by the time he died.

The debate wasn’t over accepting a work of art to go into the city collection, but where that art should go. At Monday’s meeting, friends of Brother Asaiah had mixed feelings on that issue.

“We need some way to remember him for the young people and those who are new to town,” said Bumppo Bremicker, who knew Brother Asaiah. “If it was a full-size Asaiah on a horse, I think he would be opposed to that, too. But a bust-size one would be OK.”

Michael Kennedy, another friend, said he didn’t think Brother Asaiah would want the statue in the park. The issue also raises a larger question of what is public art, Kennedy said.

“It made me think what a bust is about,” he said. “It’s a personality, not a principle … It’s almost ‘Saint Asaiah.’”

Kennedy said that also raises an issue of separation of church and state. Would there be a religious component based on Brother Asaiah’s spiritual beliefs? That was a point council member Beau Burgess picked up on.

“When we think about the question of putting something with a religious association in a public place, we’re treading on thin ice,” he said.

In a phone interview, Jackson said of Brother Asaiah, “Probably he wouldn’t want a statue of himself put up. Reasonably, logically thinking about it, that would be the place for it to be. He was one of the last leaders.”

Vait showed the council a photograph taken in 1996 of him making a clay sculpture of Brother Asaiah as he posed.

“He posed for me knowing it was going to go in a public setting,” Vait said. “He’s not handcuffed. He’s not chained.”

The Public Arts Committee meets at 5 p.m. Feb. 13 in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

More in News

Teaser
Then Now: Looking back on pandemic response

Comparing messaging from 1918 to 2021

Damage in a corner on the inside of the middle and high school building of Kachemak Selo School Nov. 12, 2019, in Kachemak Selo, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Repair costs rise as school facilities deteriorate

About $420 million worth of maintenance is needed at Kenai Peninsula Borough School District buildings.

Golden-yellow birch trees and spruce frame a view of Aurora Lagoon and Portlock Glacier from a trail in the Cottonwood-Eastland Unit of Kachemak Bay State Park off East End Road on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong)
State Parks to hold meeting on Eastland Cottonwood unit

Meeting will include update on Tutka Bay Hatchery bill

Renewable IPP CEO Jenn Miller presents information about solar power during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Company looks to build solar farm on peninsula

It would be roughly 20 times the size of the largest solar farm currently in the state.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Soldotna Trooper arrested for multiple charges of child sex abuse

He has been a State Trooper in Soldotna since June 2020.

This photo shows the Alaska State Capitol. An Alaska state lawmaker was cited for driving with an open can of beer in his vehicle that another lawmaker said was actually his. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Lawmaker cited for open beer fellow legislator says was his

Republican Sen. Josh Revak plans to challenge the $220 ticket.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
This 2011 photo shows the Taku and Malaspina ferries at the Auke Bay Terminal.
Costs add up as ferry idled nearly 2 years

Associated Press The cost to the state for docking an Alaska ferry… Continue reading

The Federal Aviation Administration released an initiative to improve flight safety in Alaska for all aviation on Oct. 14, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
FAA releases Alaska aviation safety initiatives

The recommendations, covering five areas, range from improvements in hardware to data-gathering.

AP Photo / Becky Bohrer
The Alaska Capitol is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. There is interest among lawmakers and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy in settling a dispute over the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend program, but no consensus on what the program should look like going forward.
Alaskans get annual boost of free money from PFD

Checks of $1,114 are expected to be paid to about 643,000 Alaskans, beginning this week.

Most Read