The National World War I Memorial: “an important addition to our inventory of monuments and is long overdue”

Published: 22 July 2023

By Richard Howe
via the web site


The National World War I Memorial is located just east of the White House in Washington, DC, at Pennsylvania Ave and 14th Street. It is immediately across the street from the Treasury Department and, on the other corner, the White House Visitor Center.

The official “unveiling” of the park occurred on April 16, 2021, however, the final installation will not take place until 2024. Since 1981, the site has been known as Pershing Park with a statue of U.S. Army General John Pershing, who commanded all U.S. forces in Europe during the war.

The central feature of the memorial is a 58-foot-long sculpture called “A Soldier’s Journey” which uses 38 figures to depict the experience of a typical U.S. soldier from pre-war to post-war with all the heroism and horror in between. This piece is being fabricated offsite and will be installed sometime next year. This will mark the completion of the monument.

In place of the sculpture is a two-dimensional print showing the figures that will appear. Here is a photo of that:

There is a panel in front of this wall that describes the artist’s process:

In front of you is an illustration of the sculpture that will be installed in this space in 2024. “A Soldier’s Journey” depicts a series of scenes based on the myth of “the hero’s journey,” in which a recurring figure of an American soldier embarks on a quest, wins victory in an epic struggle, and comes home changed by his passage through peril. The soldier also represents, on a second level, the American experience of World War I. This illustration shows the artistic process from initial sketch, to clay sculpture, to finished bronze.

The sculpture is the work of Sabin Howard, who together with architect Joseph Weishaar won the competition to redesign Pershing Park as a national World War I memorial. Howard began by viewing thousands of photographs of the war. He then brought actors and models into his studio, where he posed them in scenes inspired by his research. Rather than putting them into static, artificial poses, he gave them stage directions to move through a scene, and then captured the motion in more than 12,000 pictures.

Howard then selected and assembled images into a series of tableaus similar to what is before you. As Howard took new photos and revised the images, the story evolved. The process culminated in a six-foot-long scale model or “maquette” of the proposed sculpture.

Once the maquette was approved, Howard re-shot every figure in a rig holding 160 high-speed digital cameras. Working with Pangolin Editions foundry and Steve Russell Studios, Howard generated 3-D computer images from the terabytes of digital data. Pangolin then created full-scale polyurethane versions of the images, which formed the armatures for the sculpture. This process, which took about 15 months to complete, would have taken six years using traditional methods.

Howard then applied clay to the armatures and began sculpting the figures. As each of four sections is completed, it is cast in bronze. When all four sections have been cast, they will be re-assembled and shipped here for installation.

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