When it comes to outdoor art in public places, Falls Church’s congressional representative, Don Beyer, is in hog heaven.
Beyer’s typical day is filled with legislation, voting, meetings, communicating with constituents and sometimes, talking about local landmarks which leaves him almost squealing with joy.
City residents are very familiar with the statue of the man feeding pigs right outside of Don Beyer Volvo on West Broad Street, which was dedicated in a ceremony on May 6, 1984, Beyer said in a telephone interview.
The sculpture’s first design was a black man and a white woman reading a newspaper on a “Thomas Jefferson serpentine wall,” an idea based on Virginia’s miscegenation law which the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 1967.
In cast aluminum though, the design was difficult to tell, according to Beyer, so his Uncle Richard, the sculptor, went back to the drawing board.
Richard then created a woman feeding pigs, like his mother used to do on the family’s Spring Hill Farm in McLean. But Richard’s wife objected, saying the idea would not show his mother enough respect, so Richard made a man from a woman.
After World War II, when Richard fought in the Battle of the Bulge, he became “a dedicated Quaker and moved to the west coast to work for Boeing,” Beyer said.
In his free time, Richard loved making totem poles, and with his wife’s approval and her teaching income, Richard abandoned his aerospace career to devote time to art.
In the early 1980s Beyer visited his uncle and spent most of a day touring Richard’s sculptures. (Richard would go on to make more than 90 public art pieces, mostly found in the west, including one of Seattle’s most popular sculptures, Waiting for the Interurban, which has its own website and Google ranking.)
Nephew Don’s visit led to the birth of the man feeding pigs in Falls Church.
“It’s an important part of the community, we think.”
After Richard died in 2012, one of his last sculptures came to the dealership by way of Richard’s son, Charlie, who offered it to the Beyers. They went hog wild at the possibility of another landmark on West Broad, this one at the Kia dealership on the other corner of Gordon Road.
Everyone calls it “the starving man.”
“Richard grew up during the Depression, and he remembered those times,” Don said.
John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was the basis of the man eating dog food from a can, but a check of the statue reveals a tail on the figure’s back side and possibly, the face of a cat?
“God knows what it’s supposed to be” Beyer laughed. Though unsure of what is actually there, he credits his uncle’s sense of humor for the design and the questions it raises.
Reaping what you sow, another Beyer, Richard’s grandson, Dan, has continued the family sculpting practice and made the two large feet coming out of the ground, found at the Beyers’ Alexandria Subaru showroom.
“The original idea [for the sculptures] was to try and create a sense of place. So many streets in America look alike,” Beyer said, and hopes the public art contributes to Falls Church’s uniqueness and sense of pride for being “a little bit different.
“Rather than museum art, this is art you can see and touch and access, and even decorate,” Don said, which neighbors sometimes do during Halloween and Christmas.
Whatever day it is, the statues leave the Beyers flying high on the hog and help to bring home the bacon.