Visionary industrial designer Louis Nelson conceived and spent five years creating the Korean War Veterans Memorial mural in Washington, D.C.—a striking, unforgettable granite mural featuring the faces of those who served.
Now, Nelson has released Mosaic: War Monument Mystery, and examines how this war affected him and its veterans―then and now―leading to his design of its mural wall and a new addition.
Designed as a counterpoint to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Nelson’s mural wall vibrantly honours the men and women who fought in America’s “Forgotten War.” In tandem with Frank Gaylord’s haunting steel sculptures, the wall forms a lasting tribute to both those who gave their lives and those who survived the brutal first salvo of the Cold War.
Mosaic details not only Nelson’s personal process and intentions in designing the mural, but also explores the complex web of motivations, aspirations, conflicts and controversies that accompany the building of memorials, especially those commemorating war.
“The basis of all my work,” Nelson explains, “is the purity and simplicity of design relationships working hand in hand with the story, the clear narrative to move people to understand and perhaps take action and assure their comfort in that process. At its core is that it must matter.”
In Mosaic, Nelson blends aspects of his own autobiography, recounting the journey that shaped the work he designs. Raised in the melting pot of New York City, he studied at Pratt before a stint as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. Military life, as absorbing as it was, took its toll on his first marriage, and he left the service, narrowly escaping a probable tour of duty in Vietnam. Returning to Pratt for graduate school, he went on to an eminent career as an industrial designer.
In 1990, Nelson was asked to design the mural wall, and he immersed himself in the often-overlooked history of the Korean conflict. This profound engagement gave him great insight into the human reality of the war—a reality he chose to recreate and celebrate through some 2,000 faces, taken from actual photographs from the military archives. Engraved into the granite through a constellation of points, these are images of different groups of occupations in each of the services—from truck drivers to pilots, signalmen to telephone operators, boatswains to bridge builders, doctors and nurses to cooks.
Nelson places the mural wall into multiple contexts: its physical and symbolic placement on the National Mall, straddling the Lincoln Memorial and providing a balancing arm to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; its historical lineage in the long tradition of memorials to soldiers and conflict, in America and beyond; its healing powers as a place of remembrance and reflection for those who lived the experience or loved someone who did; and illumination for those of us who need to be reminded of the call of duty and the sacrifice these no longer faceless service members made.
About the Author
Louis Nelson is a visiting lecturer at Harvard University, Pratt Institute, Stockholm’s Konstfack University and Seoul’s Hongik University. He has been honoured by virtually every significant design industry organization in the country and abroad, awarded Pratt Institute’s Career Achievement Award, IDSA Industrial Design Excellent Award and nominee for the Smithsonian National Design Medal. He lives in New York with his wife, the noted singer, author and performer, Judy Collins. For more information, please visit www.louisnelson.com/.