In early 2019, the district plaque commission of Berlin Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf was considering various proposals for a plaque honoring the memory of Harald Poelchau, namesake of the Poelchau District, who was an heroic figure in the Christian resistance to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. As part of their curriculum on the history of Harald and Dorothee Poelchau, the students of several local grade schools (ages 7-13), including the eponymous Poelchau-Schule, were invited to submit their own ideas. During the creative process the notion of a plaque grew into the conception a sculptural monument. I was asked to distill the essence of the students’ creative output into presentable, plausible, sophisticated designs for consideration by a juried board overseeing the commission. Using the children’s sketches and the conceptual thought driving them as a point of departure, I ultimately created two refined designs and provided photoreal renderings for a proposed public sculpture that would carry the plaque commemorating the enormous courage and humanitarian achievements of Harald and Dorothee Poelchau.
Poelchau-Schule Klasse Klasse 9S1
Of the student directions we considered, two were deemed most promising and sculpturally viable. One of these addressed the universal plight of refugees, a topic with very current implications. These students focused on the spirit of rescue, protection and guidance, incarnated in their vision as a mighty, benevolent eagle. We had concerns that a huge bird-of-prey might seem intimidating rather than benevolent and that the depiction of rescue could be mistaken for aggression, so the evolution of this direction would have to involve significant rethinking to convey the intended message. We also leaned toward a more abstract articulation.
The second direction proposed the idea of an ‘anonymous bust’, a monument to the dignity of all oppressed people. This direction was driven more by abstract form, therefore I was able to follow it more faithfully, but we felt it needed a stronger conceptual aspect.
Conceptual Studies - 1st Direction
I began with the first direction by combining a spherical form representing the world, the extent of humanity, with that of a dove providing mercy and protection to a vessel tossed at sea. I worked subtractively to reveal the form of a vessel and the the wings of the dove and then added sleek, minimal forms to suggest the forms of the dove itself. I chose a highly polished steel substrate to allow the sculpture to serve as a sort of ‘gazing globe’ for the community to reflect upon, to involve the observer, to provide a mirror for society to view itself from this benevolent context. This form was placed at a precarious angle upon a granite base topped with a pattern of concave forms perfectly mated to the spherical object, creating the suggestion that it is floating upon a wave-tossed sea.
Conceptual Studies - 2nd Direction
In developing the second direction, the ‘anonymous bust’, into a larger conceptual statement speaking to the essential connection between heart and mind, I adding a sculptural counterpart to the ‘head’ form representing ‘the heart’, the allegorical fount of human empathy and compassion, with an emphasis on the link between them. As I experimented with the idea of folding a sheet of steel over a radius to create the ‘torso’ form, I realized the opportunity for this form to become the structure for retaining and supporting the separate 'heart-and-head' form. That form also became purely symmetrical, with ‘heart’ and ‘head’ given equal representation. This inner form was ultimately rendered in a contrasting bronze material to give emphasis to the warmer human quality it conveys.
Proposed Design - Benevolence
I gave this design the working title Benevolence. It is intended as a statement to both the precarious nature of human society and the benevolence and wisdom that must steady it through turbulent times. It is a reminder that society will always rest on a precarious ‘sea’ of uncertainty and require a steadying influence. The ‘bowl’ element is a vessel in which humanity places its hopes, such as those vessels that carry migrants and refugees to a better future. The ‘dove’ is the benevolence and strength that protects it from human nature’s darker impulses. In this sense, the ‘dove’ serves to represent the deeds and memory of Harald and Dorothee Poelchau.
Proposed Design - Empathy
I gave this design the working title Empathy. This is a statement to the strong connection between the heart and mind that creates empathy, instills sympathy and inspires benevolence. It is an heroic trait found in humanitarians such as Harald and Dorothee Poelchau. The rolled, brushed steel ‘torso’ suggests a resolute and protective spiritual ‘armor’ against the influences that corrupt humanity, upon which the ‘head’ and ‘heart’ are balanced, cast in a bronze material to suggest a more penetrable, inner humanity.
The designs were first presented alongside the original sketches and project creations of the student groups in an exhibition held in June 2019 in the Rathausgalerie of Charlottenburg district city hall. For the students and faculty involved, it was the culmination of a rich process of historical learning, creative exercise, passion and awareness related to the memory of two brave humanitarians and to the universal spirit of human moral compassion. As of late 2019, the commission remained undecided as to the outcome but the effort continues to manifest one of these memorial sculptures as a permanent addition to the Poelchau neighborhood of Berlin.