The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

By Brandon Cline
Managing Editor 

Sculpture of American flag constructed near fairgrounds

County commissioner John Marshall and his wife, Jan, began the project over a year ago


Journal photo by Brandon Cline

Adams County Commissioner John Marshall and his wife, Jan, recently completed a metallic sculpture of the American flag (above) near the fairgrounds on 1st Avenue. The Marshalls came up with the idea over a year ago.

If you've driven out to the Wheat Land Communities' Fairgrounds any time in the past couple of weeks, you undoubtedly noticed the newest addition to the Ritzville community art scene: an enormous metal sculpture of the American flag, with license plates of each of the 50 states replacing the stars.

The sculpture is the work of Adams County commissioner John Marshall and his wife, Jan. John said that what first got them interested in doing something like this was when he thought that the large wall behind the sculpture needed to have a mural painted on it. What got the Marshalls interested specifically in building a sculpture of the American flag was years in the making, however.

Both of John's parents served in World War II, and he himself served in the United States Army when he was younger. Marshall's parents are intermed next to each other at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park in Seattle, and the Marshalls travel to the cemetery each year for the annual Memorial Day service that is held.

"My dad had died and I was having a little trouble with that, and I just went out and walked among the soldiers out there," explained Marshall. "And then when my mom was buried there with him, we went over to leave some flowers and we left a couple of flags."

The Marshalls brought more flags to leave the following year, and then the next year they bought a box of some 30 flags from the American Legion to leave at headstones. Now, the Marshalls bring 60 flags every year, reading the headstones and leaving a flag if they feel a connection to a veteran's life story.

"We read the headstones, and [leave a flag] if it's something we connect with, like there's a sailor there who died in World War II and his last name is Wilson and my wife's maiden name is Wilson," said Marshall. "Or we were born in Iowa and we'll put a flag by an Iowan soldier. So we make some connection and try and remember those people."

On the way back to Ritzville from the Memorial Day service in 2018, John and Jan stopped at a couple of 'junk stores' to buy street signs and license plates. John collects various kinds of signs, which are on display at the Marshalls' business, Landcraft Repair. Jan pitched the idea of using street signs to portray the 50 stars on the metallic American flag they had in mind, and John countered with using each of the 50 states' license plates instead.

And so the project began. The Marshalls ended up purchasing three sets of license plates of all 50 states from the Piccadilly Museum of Transportation in Butte, Montana, a connection they had forged from driving the Ritzville Festivals Association's float during Butte's Fourth of July Parade over the years.

The Marshalls got a thumbs up from Ritzville city officials to go ahead with the project at the site, including from Mayor Gary Cook, who like John is also a veteran. "And for some reason nobody doubted that I'd be able to do it," Marshall joked.

Marshall said that the hardest part of the project was wanting the flag to look like it was blowing in the wind. To do that, they took the huge metal sheets to Spokane and had them formed by a sheet metal company. The flag's red stripes are separate sheet metal strips and had to be bent and formed to fit with the other sheets.

For the license plates, the Marshalls used special rivets that lock on to the plates and make it so the rivets can't be removed without destroying the license plates, hopefully serving as a deterrent to those who might try and steal a plate. The plates are listed in the order that the states ratified the U.S. Constitution, beginning with Delaware (Dec. 7, 1787) in the upper-left corner and ending with Hawaii (Aug. 21, 1959) in the lower-right corner.

In the end, Marshall said he was very pleased with the way the project turned out, and noted that they probably spent less time working on the project than they did worrying about it. The Marshalls got help and guidance along the way, whether it be from Avista in planting the 8-foot-by-8-foot wooden posts, or their son Jeff, a project engineer for Whitman County whom they sought advice from.

And with the Wheat Land Communities' Fair now just a few months away, Marshall playfully noted that the sculpture would be the perfect backdrop for the rodeo queen during a photo opportunity on parade day.


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