- Associated Press - Sunday, January 26, 2014

HOMER, Alaska (AP) - What would Brother Asaiah do?

That question is at the heart of a dilemma many small cities would love to face. Where’s the best place to put a donation of an $18,500 work of art by one of Homer’s finest sculptors?

The issue will be on the agenda of the Homer City Council Monday night when the council considers a resolution to accept a sculpture of Brother Asaiah Bates to be done by Homer artist Leo Vait.

Brother Asaiah, who died in March 2000 at the age of 78, was “perhaps the closest thing Homer will ever have to a patron saint,” Homer News reporter Hal Spence wrote of him in an obituary. Brother Asaiah also was a Homer City Council member.

The council will consider two things:

- Should the city accept the Brother Asaiah sculpture into its art collection?

- Should the sculpture be installed on a rock at WKFL Park, the land Brother Asaiah gave to the city of Homer?

Both the Public Arts Committee and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission have recommended accepting the art work. The Public Arts Committee at its Dec. 24, 2013, meeting passed a resolution saying that the statue would be acceptable to the city collection.

“However, there is a question regarding the location being appropriate and therefore recommend the city council hold a public hearing on the issue,” the resolution also said.

The Public Arts Committee passed the art donation request on to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission. At its meeting last Thursday, parks and recreation agreed with the art committee and forwarded the question to the council.

Many people who knew Brother Asaiah agree that it’s OK for the city to accept the art work. They disagree on putting the statue in WKFL Park.

“I’m a libertarian. I don’t care if somebody builds a sculpture. They can do anything they want,” said Michael Kennedy, a friend of Brother Asaiah. “When it goes into the public domain, then it becomes different.”

“WKFL” stands for “Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love,” according to a plaque on a large boulder in the park, but it also stands for “Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Love Fountain of the World,” the name of the organization known as “the Fountain” and its followers as “the Barefooters,” for their practice of walking barefoot even in winter. It was the reason Brother Asaiah came to Homer in 1958. Born Claude Bates in 1921, Brother Asaiah got his name from Krishna Venta, founder of the Fountain. Venta led a group to Homer where they settled in the Fox River Valley. The movement faded away after Venta was killed in a bomb explosion in California in 1958, but Brother Asaiah and a few others remained in Homer.

In the 1960s when a generation of hippies and back-to-the-landers came to Homer, Brother Asaiah became something of a guru to them - a Greatest Generation World War II veteran who wore a beard and long hair in a ponytail and called everyone “brother” and “sister.” Brother Asaiah preached and lived a life of tolerance and respect, and became an unofficial ambassador between the generations of Homer residents.

“He was always the big reconciler,” said Brad Hughes, a friend of Brother Asaiah and a Homer artist. “His big gift to the community was he achieved likability and respect between old-time homesteaders, hippies and the fishing community.”

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