Violation of Church and State Cited
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – A proposal by an artist looking to paint utility boxes in the city crashed like Icarus after a hot council debate decided that wings are banished as public art on city street corners.
The January 7 meeting of the city council determined the proposed images crossed the line separating church and state. The depiction of a winged figure was interpreted as an angel that might have been associated as a Christian symbol.
Paul Miller Says No to Wings
This particular proposal for art in public places did not sit well with Mr. Paul Miller who works as a Lutheran minister and argued against art that with potentially spiritual or religious symbolism. It might seem an odd position for a minister of the Christian faith but Miller made himself clear during his three minutes preaching at the podium by advocating that all images of wings be outlawed.
Miller said the nature of the city’s public art policy “enters into the world of spirituality stuff” and discriminates against Christian images while favoring Universalist, New Age, metaphysical, Hinduism as well as Buddhist types of images as acceptable in public art.
Paul Miller said if art of one religious belief is not allowed but others are permitted then he prefers the images of desert landscape scenes.
“When you get into depicting things with wings, etc. you are definitely entering into spirituality stuff and if you are going to do that then you need to put crosses, crèches and you need to get back to saying all right we’re going to put Christian thing here, put a Muslim thing here, we’ll put a Buddhist thing here,” said Miller who convinced the council to record a unanimous vote banning wings.
Miller ended by saying his preaching during public comments was not “political.”
All Wings Prohibited
In what may turn out to be a classic case of unintended consequences, the council’s ban on wings encompasses roadrunners and burrowing owls which are banished with the angels when it comes to public art in the city.
Innocuous illustrations of chicken wings as well as classical images from Greece such as Nike are now barred as the decision by the city council made no distinction of wing specificity. The exacting language of the measure that won by a unanimous vote was that no public funds would pay for any images of wings.
Yudit Ecsedy, the artist who had proposed the angels said she has seen many Angels, reminding the council that historically Angels are not unique to Christianity but were adopted from Judaism.
Ecsedy defended her proposal with an eloquent explanation of her intent to depict the scared and the spiritual in an inspiring way without association to any specific faith. She said her intention was to depict spiritual beings of light as uplifting sentinels visually representing a sacred reality to enlighten us.
Classical Images Banned
Also on the do-not-paint-this list is a winged sun, a symbol associated with divinity, royalty and power in the Ancient Near East. From the 8th century BC, it appears on Hebrew seals as well as the Greek. Most are familiar with the winged sun conventionally depicted as the knob of the Staff of Hermes recognizable as the caduceus, emblematic of physicians.
The winged sun is also associated with various groups such as Freemasonry, Theosophy, Rosicrucians and Unity Church. Variations of the symbol are also used as a trademark logo on vehicles produced by the Chrysler Corporation, and Harley Davidson. All are apparently off limits.
No Fairies Allowed
Illustrations of wings worn by Native Americans in tribal dances are presumably not allowed. Also taboo are fairies – they have wings. Add to the list the common household fly.
Aspiring Leonardo Da Vinci’s take note; all manner of wings are forbidden. Not only is Da Vinci’s painting of Angel Gabriel from the Annunciation outlawed and so too are drawings of winged vehicles.
Airplanes, rockets and missiles have wings prohibited from public art in Desert Hot Springs.
Latin American art depicts winged figures in the art of cultures of the Olmec, Toltec, and Inca that can no longer be referenced.
Many illustrations of aliens from out of this world have wings, as well as dragons and the hood ornament of Rolls Royce.
When it comes to good wings versus bad there seems to be no difference in Desert Hot Springs. The devil of the matter is that both angels and demons have wings.
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader.
In 2014 he was appointed Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs, California.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Desert Hot Springs, California.