February 7, 2023 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

VIDEO: Brentwood Commemorates Homeless Poet Wendell Brown With Bronze Sculpture

Brown’s face and right arm jump off a wall as his hand rests with pen in hand atop his poem, “Brentwood, Don’t Change.” Photos by Mariella Rudi.
Brown’s face and right arm jump off a wall as his hand rests with pen in hand atop his poem, “Brentwood, Don’t Change.” Photos by Mariella Rudi.

Wendell Brown, the homeless poet laureate of Brentwood who died last year, now has a permanent home in the spot he had occupied for years doling out poems and compliments to passersby.

Brentwood community leaders and friends of Brown’s gathered on the patio of the Douglas Emmett building at 11021 San Vicente Boulevard Sunday to unveil the posthumous sculpture in memoriam Brown, a decades-long beloved fixture of the community despite his status as a black and homeless veteran in affluent, at times insular, Brentwood.

The piece, commissioned by the Brentwood community for sought-after Los Angeles sculptor Jonathan Bickart, is as symbolic as it is lifelike. Brown’s face and right arm jump off a wall as his hand rests with pen in hand atop his poem, “Brentwood, Don’t Change.” Fragmented from the shoulder down, his heart falls to pieces into the shape of Vietnam, with an amethyst – Brown’s birthstone – in the province where Brown experienced trauma as an American soldier; his broken heart shining onto the street.

“When a group of us heard of Wendell’s passing, we were all so devastated and we got together and said, wouldn’t it be great if someone could recreate Wendell to sit out here forever,” Lauren Rojany said at the ceremony. “When we all drive by in the morning and we’re expecting him to be there, he will be there. So, I went to Jonathan [Bickart] and told him what was going on and he was absolutely thrilled and blown away by this idea: that not only had a community come together but over a homeless man in Brentwood. Not your everyday story. This was a man who truly didn’t do much for the community except remind us about our humanity and how important it was to smile at a stranger and say hello when you walk by.”

A Vietnam veteran, Brown emerged from the war a changed man, suffering from depression and addiction thereafter. While working as a bricklayer in 1983, Brown had a flashback of a woman he watched being slaughtered after she helped him hide from Viet Cong soldiers. He fell off his ladder and dislocated his back. He had been afraid to work since that accident and had been on the streets ever since.

In 1991, after receiving psychological help and 90 days of treatment, Brown came to Brentwood. He found local fame with verses and rhymes in tow, attracting praise from actresses Roseanne Barr and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Brown was buried at Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery in his birthplace of North Little Rock.

The artist Jonathan Bickart on his Wendell Brown sculpture: “Looking at his face I feel like I won the portrait lottery. And he’s got this deep, amazing, soulful face like Miles Davis.”
The artist Jonathan Bickart on his Wendell Brown sculpture: “Looking at his face I feel like I won the portrait lottery. And he’s got this deep, amazing, soulful face like Miles Davis.”

“This is so powerful. I know Wendell really would have just loved this. He loved the people of Brentwood,” said Willie Vines, Brown’s brother, after the unveiling Sunday.

Many of Brown’s other family were in attendance, too, awe-struck at the impact their Wendell had on this community.

Brown’s niece Candace Montgomery was flooded with memories of her uncle reciting poems mid-conversation, “but it was always about what you were talking about. He had a very God-given talent. And he always handed us poems,” she recalled.

“Until last year when [Brentwood] had that memorial for him, I didn’t know that he affected so many people’s lives. It’s really amazing to me the difference one person can make with just a word, or a poem, and how much it can change the attitudes of everybody. I think it’s something we take for granted and that we need to think more of.”

In the days leading up to the unveiling, with the piece at about 99 percent finished, Bickart was asked what he was expecting from the unveiling, an event a year in the making. He surmised the young artist in him – the ego – was most concerned with recognition as an artist and that the piece would be valid and well liked.

“But in my recent years I’ve been removing myself from all of that, and other than I got to enjoy my clients crying when they got to see it, all I’d really expect from it is the people who knew Wendell get some sort of memorial or representation of what they remember as the special times he brought to that community. And the unveiling will be the day where they get to reconnect with who and what he was,” he said.

For Bickart, an artist with an anti-war and civil rights position, the Wendell Brown commission symbolized more than just a pay-it-forward memorialization. It could be a political and civic statement, too, about the issues of race, class, mental health, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“As an artist, this is very personal. Looking at his face I feel like I won the portrait lottery. And he’s got this deep, amazing, soulful face like Miles Davis. And I just felt like there’s many of my clients that I got to sculpt whose accomplishments weren’t that interesting looking, and I feel like I got the exact opposite. Wendell visually had a presence that was engaging as well.”

Known for his large public art commissions, Bickart’s work is recognized across Los Angeles from the 14-foot monument of Colonel Griffith J. Griffith at the entrance to Griffith Park, to the bronze bust at the Rivera Country Club, and most recently the ” G.W.Carver for LAUSD at Carver Middle School in South L.A.

“There’s people who when you look at them have a disconnection to who and what they are, and there’s other people who read like book,” Bickart said. “And looking at [Brown] he looks like he lived through some of the things that he obviously had.”

Viewers might also notice a mysterious split earlobe.

“[His face] definitely showed signs of age and history to it, and there was some wuthering that was a little dark and sad, but all of it layered over a really positive openness. Especially when he talked to people, he had a big smile.”

Fragmented from the shoulder down, his heart falls to pieces into the shape of Vietnam, with an amethyst ¬– Brown’s birthstone – in the province where Brown experienced trauma as an American soldier.
Fragmented from the shoulder down, his heart falls to pieces into the shape of Vietnam, with an amethyst ¬– Brown’s birthstone – in the province where Brown experienced trauma as an American soldier.

Influenced by portrait sculptors Jean-Antoine Houdon and Daniel Chester French, Bickart used one particular L.A. sculpture, his favorite in the city, as inspiration for the Brown sculpture.

It’s called “Corporate Head” by Terry Allen and Phillip Levine at the Ernst & Young Building downtown and depicts a bronze man carrying a briefcase with his head stuck at the bottom of the skyscraper.

“It’s a piece I love in L.A., and I wanted something different, and I like the penetration of form and things emerging from walls,” Bickart said.

As head of the sculpture department at the Brentwood Arts Center for 10 years, Bickart had run into Brown several times during his time on the Westside. With him, it was always a kind word, compliments to the ladies, a “God bless you.”

“You kind of wonder what you can do to make a difference,” Bickart considered. “Here, this piece covers many elements of one, to be the type of change you want to see. I know Brentwood feels the same way too. Twenty years ago with O.J. Simpson was not what they wanted their community to be remembered by. And Wendell speaks a way different story.”

Correction: October 16

A previous version of this article stated that crowds gathered in front of Pharmaca on San Vicente Boulevard, which is right next door to the Douglas Emmett building.

The Brentwood Homeowners Association did not commission the statue; the Brentwood community did.

Related Posts

CCUSD Board Reviews Plans to Strengthen Structures for Students in Need

February 7, 2023

February 7, 2023

Board of Education has reviewed plans to strengthen structures for students who need extra support The Culver City Unified School...

Metro LA Looks to Create Homeless Support Hubs at Train Termini

February 6, 2023

February 6, 2023

Metro estimates that 800 people use Metro train and rapid transit bus stations as shelter each night By Dolores Quintana...

Property Transfer Tax Measure ULA Heads to Court as Landlords and Taxpayers Association File Lawsuit Against LA City

February 3, 2023

February 3, 2023

Measure is intended to fund affordable housing and tenant assistance programs through a property transfer tax By Dolores Quintana Measure...

A Luxurious Mar Vista Home Has Hit the Market for $3,395,000

February 3, 2023

February 3, 2023

Ashwood Avenue home offers 3080 square feet of living space  A stunning four-bedroom, five-bathroom home has hit the market in...

Ratkovich Company and JPMorgan Secure $41 Million Loan for Culver City Office Development

February 3, 2023

February 3, 2023

Project is located near the intersection of Jefferson and Obama Boulevards. By Dolores Quintana JP Morgan and the Ratkovich Company...

Culver City Approves Construction of 165,000-Square-Foot Office Building on Watseka Avenue

February 3, 2023

February 3, 2023

Four-story development set to be complete in 2025 or 2026 The City of Culver has given the green light to...

Chef Jason Neroni Introduces Best Bet Pizza to Washington Boulevard

February 2, 2023

February 2, 2023

Best Bet to open in former A-Frame space on Washington Boulevard By Dolores Quintana It’s official, chef Jason Neroni will...

Free Bahn Mi Sandwiches for Mar Vista Restaurant’s 4 Year Anniversary

February 1, 2023

February 1, 2023

My Lai party to feature free Banh Mi Sandwiches, gift card prizes, and other goodies!   By Dolores Quintana On February...

California’s Ambitious Fast-Food Law Heads to Statewide Referendum for Final Verdict

February 1, 2023

February 1, 2023

AB 257 would create a board of 11 appointees to negotiate on behalf of fast food workers in California Last...

Mayor Bass Launch New Initiative to House Homeless at Culver Boulevard Encampment

February 1, 2023

February 1, 2023

Two Inside Safe initiatives launched in South LA and Westside By Sam Catanzaro City officials have announced a new effort...

Girl Scouts Return to Los Angeles With Delicious New Cookie!

January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023

Cookie lovers throughout Greater Los Angeles can now support local Girl Scout entrepreneurs by ordering from the iconic lineup Girl...

Boris Allakhverdyan, Ben Hong and Talon Smith Unite in Santa Monica for Special Performance of Brahms’ Trio Op. 114

January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023

Concert will take place on Sunday, February 5 The world-renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Principal Clarinet Boris Allakhverdyan and Associate Principal...

70 Culver High AVPA Students Descend on CETA for High School Theater Arts Festival

January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023

CCHS Senior Ginger Anderson-Willis took home first place in the “Trailer” category 70 Culver City High School students from the...

Metro’s Choice for Purple Line Muralist Sparks Veteran Concern

January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023

Veterans concerned over disturbing painting by commissioned metro muralist at the purple line stop on the West L.A VA Soldiers...

Mayor Karen Bass Makes Moves in her New Administration to Combat Homelessness

January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023

Mayor appoints three Deputy Mayors and three Directors last week Mayor Karen Bass has wasted no time in the transition...