Gateway Arch - Symbolism and Culture

Symbolism and Culture

The Gateway Arch packs a significant symbolic wallop just by standing there. But the Arch has a mission greater than being visually affecting. Its shape and monumental size suggest movement through time and space, and invite inquiry into the complex, fascinating story of our national expansion.

Robert W. Duffy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 4, 2003

Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, the arch typifies "the pioneer spirit of the men and women who won the West, and those of a latter day to strive on other frontiers." The arch has become the iconic image of St. Louis, appearing in many parts of city culture. In 1968, three years after the monument's opening, the St. Louis phone directory contained 65 corporations with "Gateway" in their title and 17 with "Arch". Arches also appeared over gas stations and drive-in restaurants. In the 1970s, a local sports team adopted the name "Fighting Arches". Robert S. Chandler, an NPS superintendent, said, "Most are awed by the size and scale of the Arch, but they don't understand what it's all about.... Too many people see it as just a symbol of the city of St. Louis."

The arch has also appeared as a symbol of the State of Missouri. On November 22, 2002, at the Missouri State Capitol, Lori Hauser Holden, wife of then Governor Bob Holden uncovered the winning design for a Missouri coin design competition as part of the Fifty States Commemorative Coin Program. Designed by watercolorist Paul Jackson, the coin portrays "three members of the Lewis and Clark expedition paddling a boat on the Missouri River upon returning to St. Louis" with the arch as the backdrop. Holden said that the arch was "a symbol for the entire state .... Four million visitors each year see the Arch. will help make it even more loved worldwide." A special license plate designed by Arnold Worldwide featured the arch, labeled with "Gateway to the West." Profits earned from selling the plates would fund the museum and other educational components of the arch.

Louchheim wrote that although the arch "has a simplicity which should guarantee timeliness", it is entirely modern as well because of the innovative design and its scientific considerations. In The Dallas Morning News, architectural critic David Dillon opined that the arch exists not as a functional edifice but as a symbol of "boundless American optimism". He articulates the arch's multiple "moods"—"reflective in sunlight, soft and pewterish in mist; crisp as a line drawing one moment, chimerical the next"—as a way the arch has "paid for itself many times over in wonder".

In February 1997, Dutch composer Peter Schat was struck by the skill of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra as they performed one of his compositions under the conduct of Hans Vonk. He commissioned the orchestra, with plans "to create a musical equivalent to Eero Saarinen's monumental Gateway Arch." By October of the same year, he finished the composition, which was called Arch Music for St. Louis, Op. 44. It premiered on January 8, 1999, at the Powell Symphony Hall. Since Schat did not ascend the arch due to his fear of heights, he used his creativity to depict in music someone riding a tram to the top of the arch:

he traveller head heavenward in his tiny cabin—an imaginary journey intones. Propelled by the motor of a syncopated rhythm (Syncopated Allegro), the traveller/listener is hurled, with gigantic force and in one continual movement, to a summit of tranquility of an Adagio, his soul—the violin—contemplates the panorama of endless open spaces, the air, the shimmering river and the silently bustling city far below. . . . Forging a musical arch of about fifteen minutes that will do justice to Eero Saarinen's technically and esthetically stunning achievement (a masterpiece, incidentally, that he never saw) requires compositional material with the tensile strength of steel. This metal can be found in the inexhaustibly rich mine of chromatic tonality. This tonality is to diatonic tonality as steel is to wood. Saarinen could never have built this monument out of wood.

Paul Muldoon's "The Stoic" also references the Gateway Arch. The poem, "an elegy for a miscarried foetus," describes Muldoon's ordeal standing under the Gateway Arch after his wife telephoned and informed him that the baby they were expecting had been miscarried. During the writing process, Muldoon said, "I've this notion ... that there might be some connection between standing underneath ... and feeling something of the despair that figures in Ozymandias, and the bleakness and just the terrible isolation of this moment.... I see the Gateway Arch as being a modem version of the two vast and trunkless legs of stone." A portion of the published poem read: "Rather than shudder like a bow of yew or the matchless Osage orange / at the thought of our child already lost from view / before it had quite come into range, / I steadied myself under the Gateway Arch." Iain Twiddy of Oxford Journals wrote that the arch "echoes the 'iced-over canal' of the poem's opening, or the birth canal" and that the mirror-image rhyme scheme of the poem, abab cdcd efgf fgfe dcdc baba, is an allusion to the Gateway Arch or the "cervical opening of the poem, as a monument to the dead."

Some have questioned whether St. Louis really was—as Saarinen said—the "Gateway to the West"; Kansas City-born "deadline poet" Calvin Trillin has commented on this when comparing himself with poet T. S. Eliot, a St. Louis native:

"I know you're thinking that there are considerable differences between T.S. Eliot and me. Yes, it is true that he was from St. Louis, which started calling itself the Gateway to the West after Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch was erected, and I'm from Kansas City, where people think of St. Louis not as the Gateway to the West but as the Exit from the East."

Read more about this topic:  Gateway Arch

Other articles related to "symbolism, culture, symbolism and culture":

Miracle Of The Roses - Symbolism of The Rose
... In the Latin West the symbolism of the rose is a Greco-Roman heritage but influenced and finally transformed through Latin biblical texts which were also liturgical ... The rose acquired in the Greco-Roman culture a symbolism which can be summarized thus The rose represented beauty, the season of spring, and love ... This symbolism attained a deeper complexity when contrasted with the thorns among which this flower blossoms ...
Hibiscus - Uses - Symbolism and Culture
... Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is considered to have a number of medical uses in Chinese herbology ... In the Philippines, the gumamela (local name for hibiscus) is used by children as part of a bubble-making pastime ...

Famous quotes containing the words culture and/or symbolism:

    The white dominant culture seemed to think that once the Indians were off the reservations, they’d eventually become like everybody else. But they aren’t like everybody else. When the Indianness is drummed out of them, they are turned into hopeless drunks on skid row.
    Elizabeth Morris (b. c. 1933)

    ...I remembered the rose bush that had reached a thorny branch out through the ragged fence, and caught my dress, detaining me when I would have passed on. And again the symbolism of it all came over me. These memories and visions of the poor—they were the clutch of the thorns. Social workers have all felt it. It holds them to their work, because the thorns curve backward, and one cannot pull away.
    Albion Fellows Bacon (1865–1933)