Lots of people that have not grown up around the Cleveland area learn of the giant FREE stamp sculpture for the first time as they travel to the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or a game of the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers, or Indians. I also have to admit I have driven past the FREE stamp countless times, but never knew any of the history of exactly what it means and why is takes up such a giant piece of property in downtown Cleveland.
The giant FREE stamp was created by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen under commission by Standard Oil of Ohio (SOhio) in 1982. The concept plan was to install the stamp on Public Square in downtown Cleveland, across from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and in front of the SOhio building. The original construction of the stamp had it standing upright, where viewers would never see the FREE portion. Since the sculpture was supposed to installed near the Civil War Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, the idea was that FREE referenced freeing the slaves during the Civil War, and since FREE would not have been seen, was meant to symbolize that not everyone is free today.
When management at SOhio changed, and the company was later purchased by British Petroleum (BP), the sculpture was never installed and was placed in storage. Finally, in 1991, Claes Oldenburg and the City of Cleveland decided on an area of downtown called Willard Park to erect the sculpture, around the corner from its original location. Since the FREE stamp would no longer carry the same impact without the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, the sculpture was modified to lie on its side as it is today.
While it does not appear to be pointed out anywhere, I noticed the FREE stamp sculpture still angles towards the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, nodding to its original design.
The stamp measures 28 feet 10 inches x 26 feet x 49 feet and is constructed of steel and aluminum (not rubber).
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