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My Word: Joan Dunning

By Joan Dunning, Arcata

As published in the Eureka Times-Standard, Sept. 4, 2018

After David died, his mother, Cindy Allsbrooks, asked me to create a monument to David, which was to be paid for by MAXXAM Corporation. I agreed, but I warned her that the only monument, which I thought could survive the vitriol of the times, would have to be made of bronze. Fewer and fewer of us remember the violence that this county endured after the takeover of Pacific Lumber Company (a fine, family company, much beloved by its neighbors) by Texas-based MAXXAM Corporation. It was a horrible, confusing era that divided Humboldt County in a way that is almost unimaginable in these more peaceful times. It was tough to have to warn Cindy that I believed her son might be the object of attack even after his death.

I had never met David, and I had only seen one photograph of him — that of a handsome, clean-cut, dark haired young man with sensitive, almond-shaped eyes which had been widely publicized in newspapers. So, Cindy gave me a manila envelope of precious, family photos. Suddenly, I was being admitted into a vision of David the public had never seen. In each photograph, I saw those same sensitive eyes, but his expressions and hair-length changed. Working with the stiff, brown wax that is used to create bronze plaques and sculptures, I experimented with David’s appearance. It is one of the singular powers of the artist to be able to spend time in this way — getting to know a young man after his death, bringing him back to life through art.

Finally, I was satisfied with the wax version of the plaque, and I had it professionally crated and sent to a foundry in eastern Oregon. During the month while it was being cast and given its beautiful patina, I went down to Pacific Lumber Company/MAXXAM’s boulder yard in Scotia, and wandered through the immense boulders with a senior employee. I decided on a boulder (like deciding on a Christmas tree) and gave the company the dimensions of the plaque-to-be so they could cut a shallow rectangle that would, forever, hold David’s image. The bronze plaque finally arrived back, and it was perfect. There were those almond eyes looking out at me. MAXXAM took over, affixing the plaque, permanently, to the boulder, and trucking it out Highway 36 to a peaceful setback below the slope where David died.

A dedication date was decided on, and all of David’s family came west from Texas and joined with his friends here to solemnly memorialize him. One by one, family members came up to me and thanked me for creating such a likeness to their precious boy. I thanked Cindy for giving me the opportunity. It was a beautiful occasion, filled with song and prayer.

Within a week, the plaque had been vandalized. The patina was ruined with egg, and a sledge-hammer had been used in an attempt to smash in the face. The image had, adequately, withstood the attack due to the support of the epoxy and boulder behind it, and those who had been to visit the plaque in that first week, had gathered up the crushed egg shells and left them in a tiny pile as an offering to David along with wildflowers, stones and shells. But, each year, when Cindy and her family returned to visit David, there was further damage. Finally, several years after its dedication, we found that a large hole had been drilled through David’s forehead and indelible red paint had been used for blood. Finally, Cindy broke down, and we realized that, somehow, the monument would have to find a new home.

There was a hope that it could be installed on the Arcata Plaza, but that was not to be. Finally, a park was found, and, with tremendous effort, the boulder was trailered away from David’s death site to a more peaceful resting place few know about.

So, this memorial scholarship takes its place. I am excited for Cindy and her family to see that this community still remembers and cares.


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