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On His Birthday, a Famed Artist's Masterpiece Faces the Bulldozer

Peter Z. Scheer
Managing Editor
Peter Scheer grew up in the newspaper business, spending family vacations with his mother at newspaper editors' conferences, enjoying daycare in editorial departments and begrudgingly reviewing his father's…
Peter Z. Scheer

The late political cartoonist Paul Conrad won the Pulitzer Prize so many times it was deemed unseemly to give him any more. Now, on the Thursday he would have turned 89, one of his masterpieces faces oblivion.

Titled “Chain Reaction,” Conrad built a sculpture in the heart of Santa Monica, a once-progressive city, directly across the street from the RAND Corporation. It is a huge, elegant, moving work that stands against the horror of war and nuclear holocaust.

The city has threatened to tear it down, for lack of funds to maintain it. It ought to be a meager budgetary concern in a place that polishes its streets multiple times a week and maintains a showcase water reclamation plant on its beachfront. A number of prominent community members, notably art gallery owner Robert Berman and this site’s editor in chief, would like to prevent that cultural catastrophe.

If you want to get involved, find out more about the fight to save “Chain Reaction” at this website.

Here are a few words about Conrad from his old friend, Robert Scheer:

Paul was like other veterans of that era of what has been called the good war—maybe the last one that can be called that—like the great Ed Guthman, also a Pulitzer winner and Paul’s close friend, and that other Times Pulitzer winner, Phil Kerby, a foil for Paul’s daily journey through the editorial page compound seeking reaction to drafts of his cartoons. Those guys had a confidence to speak truth to power that derived from the deep conviction that they were guardians of the American dream of justice and liberty for all. For them it was never simply a slogan but rather their lifeblood.

There is an adage that I believe defines both the role of the free press and the progressive church that Conrad honored—the injunction to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable—an epitaph that best captures this truly great man.

Paul Conrad in his inspired works of art day after day for more than half a century never betrayed that mission. He did so with brilliance, humor, and integrity that millions came to expect from a cartoon signed “Conrad.”

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer.

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