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Veterans memorial sculptor says design not cause of lighting issues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sculptor P. Joseph Mullins, who designed the West Virginia Veterans Memorial more than two decades ago, says recent lighting issues at the monument can be traced back to "structural problems."

Mullins said the problems are not with his design, but with the entities meant to take care of it.

"There is no organization that has specific maintenance responsibilities for the memorial," he said. "This thing ought to be maintained if the parking garage goes to hell.

"I'm bothered as an artist. I'm bothered as a veteran. I'm bothered as a state citizen."

Mullins was an infantryman in the Army, serving in the early 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of his best friends from grade school, Larry Lucas, is listed among the dead on the Vietnam wall.

"I thought I gave the state a truly world-class memorial. Pearls before swine," he said.

Construction on the memorial began in 1990 and was completed in 1999 at a cost of about $4 million. Mullins designed the whole thing, including the four limestone monoliths and the black granite facings now engraved with the names of more than 10,000 West Virginia veterans killed in combat during the 20th Century.

He picked the stones for the walkways and even made sure they matched the stones in the bottom of the memorial's reflecting pool.

Mullins also developed a lighting plan for the monument, meant to evoke an "eerie feeling" in nighttime visitors.

He picked bollards and walkway lights that would wash the memorial's walkways with just enough light to see, but not so much as to distract from the rest of the structure. He designed spotlights, recessed into the monument's floor and covered with metal grates, to bathe the interior walls with light.

On the outside of the monument, spotlights are supposed to provide backlighting for the sculptures that stand along its exterior walls.

"It was supposed to be quite somber at night," he said.

The lights haven't worked for months.

Diane Holley-Brown, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said no one at the Capitol Complex's Division of General Services knows when the lights went out, but the agency was first alerted to the problem sometime last year.

"The only thing they know is it is an electrical issue. It is more extensive than changing light bulbs or anything like that," Brown told the Daily Mail earlier this week.

The state is in the process of hiring a contractor to evaluate the lighting problem.

But even in the daytime the monument is looking worse for wear.

On Thursday afternoon, many of the grates were filled with leaves and trash. A downed tree limb had somehow ended up inside the memorial, and rested against a wall engraved with the names of West Virginians who died during World War II.

A wire easel and green Styrofoam ring sat against the monument's Korean War wall. The spongy green oval was a wreath at some point, but there were no signs of flowers.

"It is the Capitol campus version of an abandoned cemetery," Mullins said.

Officials contend the monument is not being ignored, however.

Sue Chapman, business manager for the General Services division, said workers conduct a walk-through of the area every day as part of the division's campus-wide sweep, checking for anything that's broken as well as trash and debris.

"Anytime we are aware of any event, we go through and make sure they're in proper condition," she said.

Chapman said winter weather has prevented workers from cleaning up around the memorial for the last two weeks.

Recently, some of the lights on bollards surrounding the memorial were broken. Chapman said while workers could not fix them, they did replace the broken lights with look-alike caps "so it would give the appearance of symmetry and completeness for that entire area."

"Until we have options that we can actually implement, we want it to look as if it's completely functional," she said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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