The Big Red One

or the Way of the Tour Guide

A thin sliver of shade drifted during his nap laying at the center of the Big Red One. The ball of flame far above penetrated his eyelids and he lacked the energy to move. As the sun beat down on his nutrient deficient form, the Tour Guide debated death. Somehow within the mental constructions of hopeful survival, he managed to roll over off the blanket into the grass, submerging towards cool dark shadow relief.

The cold red metal touched his arm and it’s wisdom poured into his being. The Story came back to his awareness, filling him with a shot of adrenaline as his mind starved for stimulation …..started filling in with the facts he gleaned from the environment in which he existed.

It was the Story of the Way and the Russian Artist that drew his biggest attention, as of course ….the sacred duty of a Tour Guide is to lead the Willing through the Temples and Monuments of our age, relating the inspiration and details of Artistic importance. This was his daily grind that kept him……somewhat sane.

His nap was over so he rose slowly looking for movement across the growing grass, staying low, and running into his encampment deeper into the woods. Lying flat at the edge he looks for trouble and remains still despite the ants crawling on his arm. Time passes and nothing moves as the birds chirp with not a care in this crumbling world. 

A squirrel had fallen into one of his traps and he prepared a fire to cook it. His hunger was overwhelming but since he had nothing but time, he slowly prepared the meal. The Tour Guide remembers the last people who came to the Park, two months before. Their arrival had been noisy and the sounds of their humanness was apparent. They looked like overgrown boys focusing their rage on the Statue that looked like an Eye. The Birds had been silent before their arrival.

He had watched them with their guns, stolen drugs and booze destroy the priceless art with paint and damage. Many of the statues in the Sculpture Park had been stolen or vandalized in the months after the Crumbling End but not the Big Red One. It was too tough to be messed with. The boys carried on throughout the night by the Eye as the Tour Guide crawled back to a safer spot to wait, hoping the peace would return to his sanctuary. 

He could have told the boys all about the remaining statues and the art work that litters this land.

He could tell them about the Russian who built the Big Red One. A genius level photographer, a studied Philosopher, a Modern Man, and Metal artist. This Art Work was his grand opus and while the world likely deleted or trashed all knowledge of him….it still remains. 

He could have told them it wasn’t called the Big Red One but titled The Way, but he didn’t..and now it is late summer and no one has been around since.

At night the Tour Guide slept in a tree away from the critters, occasionally throwing rocks at them. At first they were shocked as his smell was overpowering and they learned to avoid his urine soak area. 

Sometimes he talked to the critters about Russians, Conde Nast Magazine and the impact of Theosophy on Art. He ranted during the warm part of the day about the Occult and the meaning of Enlightenment. The critters were animals too and generally thought the idea of transcendence was above their heads. His daytime song wasn’t unpleasant after awhile …. joining in with the environment, so it became a funny game of risk that some animals enjoyed. He ate those that failed to adapt.

On summer afternoons, he sat under the Way and thought about religion. There were no movies, or women to talk to….so he talked to the stars. 

Fall was coming and he barely survived last Winter, he had supplies then. Wild onions were his staple food and some leaves that tasted decent. He had rigged the old bathrooms to give him water but the stench increased so it was a battle for the fresh stuff. The 72 acres had deep hidden places, wild creeks and strange elevation. It was his world to explore and scavenge what he could from the abandoned Sculpture Park.

He returned to Big Red One during the day and watched the clouds move above the Metal workings. He counted the rivets and followed the contours of it’s shape like a lover, tracing lines with his fingers.

“Tour guide? Sometimes.” He said to the wind.

“…it’s not as if anyone else is around…” he chuckled.

He rose in the center of the piece, blanket under his bare feet to give his speech. 

“Laumeier sculpture park is one of the first and largest dedicated sculpture parks in the country. The 72 acres were dedicated in the honor of Henry Laumeier by his wife…it was someone else that built the house back during the Gilded Age of St Louis*…., the land was commissioned as a Sculpture park in the 1968 after she died, and was opened in 1978 as a county park.” * for more on the story of the House, Ernst Jansssen and the Beer Baron Conspiracy

A bird landed on a spot above his head and watched the manic movements.  The summer clouds had rolled in during the late afternoon across the Missouri River Valley. The double meadows divided by the presence of this massive piece of Metal Movement. It towered above everything as the meadow grasses returned uncut by Union City Employees. At one side the burned out skeleton of the original house with crumbling bricks lay at the edge of suburbia and 2 major freeway junctions. Here a lonely Tour Guide explained the forgotten art within.

“It began with the Ernest Trova Collection, which was a donation. The idea of a sculpture park was new and with the influence of Storm Wind Sculpture park……more work began to appear moving into 1980.”

“Then came the Russian, famous already in the Art worlds. His work in 1976 at Storm Wind and a large piece in Illinois brought him deeper into the St Louis Art scenes. He knew everyone and studied with the Greats European Masters. His abstract work is on par with the wonderful Russian Artists that took Occult mindsets and painted deep philosophical paintings. Alexander Liberman however was most known then as a photographer having worked for many magazines, but his work with Metal is considered his most focused work.”

The Tour Guide was an Art enthusiast and barely an artist himself and mostly known for long prose, yet he saw genius the first time he laid eyes on the Way.  He was never paid by the County Parks, but often spent lazy Sunday afternoons wandering the grounds and talking to random strangers. When Society began to fall apart, he found himself on the large acreage out of habit, and finding it abandoned, he took up the cause to survive within eyesight of this cultural icon.

“”The Way alludes to a classical ruin, and is made of steel storage tanks bolted together. These materials in a structure of noble lineage acknowledging history while asserting the validity of contemporary imagery. The portal is a passage into new perceptions. That quote is from the plaque, but personally … I think the Russian built a temple, a sacred location. This isn’t just an icon or a fluke or just slapped together pieces of metal. These are repurposed oil tanks and our deeply symbolic of the way Oil helped destroy our society.”

He couldn’t help a little slap on the hollow metal shells. Despite the sounds of the wind, it echoed out and he ducked raising his heart rate, scanning the horizon. 

Whispering to the wind… 

“The angles are meant to reflect post and lintel architecture and convey a sense of movement. At any angle the whole perspective shifts the viewer into a sense of awe and spiritual awareness. Like civilization itself which crumbles under the weight of it’s own self destructive means. The curves are metaphysical and the color….”

The thick paint still shines in the sun, with slight dents of time, the deep symbolism is still apparent. 

“Red for Russia, Red for his Bolshevik father, Red for his Motherland and Red like the 2nd chakra of an occult system of consciousness.” 

He rolls down into the blanket, well worn and comfortable. His arms stretching upwards to the peaks of the Red Tubes above his head.

“Here lies a newly sacred temple to a holistic way of seeing reality…neatly tucked into a summer home location of rich St Louisians, a private landscape of the wealthy American Industrialist and here on their old country land is a symbol of enlightenment.”

More birds had joined in now, the squirrels stop foraging and the real deer, in the woods behind the severed legs of a former deer statue, peak up their ears to listen to the Tour Guide as he hits his high note.

“The Way is the way, the Tao, the Spirit and the glorious unfolding of humanity on this earth. Here stands the last testimonial monument of the Russian Artist who showed us the Truth. At the End of humanity we simply stand proud of our achievements or we waste away into the night.” 

He slumped down further into the blanket as the sun set. He was done, and felt this place was good as any. No tree for him tonight, he sleeps in the temple, out in the open.

“Like an ancient incubator, we dream within our sacred spaces, forged by our spiritual ancestors as places to commune with the Spirits. What spirit this steel retains, what an effort towards collective awareness. I call to the Universe to guide my path forward in perfect harmony.”

Whatever the fates have in store, he will face it. The Tour guide was tired of hiding and needed to see if humanity was burnt or just going through a rough patch.

“Alexander Liberman was a Russian Artist and his works still remain. Please enjoy your trip to Lauimeier Sculpture park and drop a few dollars in the donation bid.”

His eyelids fluttered and his face nuzzled into the old imitation Indian blanket for comfort. 

“we need to appreciate great art in the future, it’s always trying to lay it’s wisdom down for us….”

The birds stopped chirping and a silence settled on the open field as an uneasy arrival, silently stalked the area.

“…we just need the ears, eyes and heart to listen.” 

Alexander Liberman in front of his work