One blustery day back in November of 2011, Brian and I were walking our fountain tour route, when we noticed looming up ahead at the Standard Insurance Center, a very large white statue we weren’t familiar with. We saw a bunch of naked bodies intertwined as if they had just leaped out of the ocean, or so some looked this way. It wasn’t an ordinary thing to see in the Portland area. I actually had never seen it before so not only was it not familiar, I didn’t know it existed in the first place! We walked around it several times talking about what we thought it represented. Oh, it could be so many things. It was hard to pin point it. At first you could assume they were all swimming, but, the positions of the people are not really in a swimming mode. Was it family? The three people in the front of the sculpture appear to be a mother, father, and an older teen girl or young adult child perhaps. However, from the back of the sculpture there is a younger female and a baby. It’s anyone’s guess. I think it’s a mother, father, two daughters, and a surprise son maybe, due to the big age gap of the youngest child who looks to be maybe 12 to 14 I’m guessing. The family looks like they are in search of something wonderful. They look hopeful and serene. People have mixed emotions about this naked sculpture.
Most locals refer to The Quest as “Family Night at the Y,” or “Three Groins in a Fountain,” probably not out of meanness. There are mixed emotions about the statue but most people like it in one way or another. The statue is quite peaceful, and come on; it’s Portland, the land of the laid back!
The sculpture was created in 1970 by the Count Alexander von Svoboda. This masterpiece was hewn from one 200 ton block of white Pentelic Greek marble. The figures are 5 times larger than real life. It took the artist 2 ½ years to complete the sculpture and required thirty-five stonemasons to assist him.
The Quest is not just a sculpture, but is also a water feature. It sits in the southern end of a long rectangular pool, about 50 feet long and fifteen feet wide and takes up about half of the space in front of the building. The base of the sculpture is surrounded by small water jets. There is also a waterfall coming from the statue itself. In the 60% or so of the fountain not taken up by the statue, two vertical jets shoot water about five feet into the air. Submerged in the 10 or so inches of water are nine floodlights that light up the statue during the evening hours. The finished sculpture weighs seventeen tons! Von Svoboda describes The Quest in these words:
“It depicts the growth of today and tomorrow and the awakening to the future. I wanted to have complete contrast between this piece of sculpture and the Georgia-Pacific Building. The sculpture is designed to lead the beholder to look towards the middle of the building and then up.”
I like the statue because I can forever be guessing what these marble humans mean to each other, what their relationship truly is, whether it’s family, friends, or lost souls. I’ll probably never know for sure.
Count Alexander von Svoboda is an internationally acclaimed artist, sculpture, and designer. He was born in Austria on April 16, 1929.
To learn more about Portland’s many wonderful fountains, click here
Words by Glenda photos by Brian