Local artists use their talents to turn weapons into a creative statement.
Creating art brings joy to the world in many ways. For those of us who direct our energy into creating works of art, the satisfaction of stepping back and looking at a completed project, and better yet, watching others react to it is a wonderful thing. A group of local artists have also directed their skills and talent toward a very serious subject. On Sept. 15, Paul Thorne, Tracy Powell, and Natalie Niblack, and several other participants gathered at Seafarer’s Park to kick off the Regeneration Project. The purpose of this endeavor is to create a public art project from donated guns and weapons, honoring victims of gun violence and First Responders. Here are some of the principles behind it.
One of the important roles of public art is to be a catalyst for honest dialogue. It is our hope that as weapons are regenerated into art we can also regenerate conversation away from one rooted in confrontation to one that strives for solutions. This project offers people who have guns, that they do not want to keep, an opportunity to permanently take the weapons out of circulation; becoming a part of a larger community response.
Local metal artist and blacksmith Paul Thorne set up a portable forge, and with the help of gunsmith Ron Medcalf, and others in the group, they began the work of transforming unused guns and other weapons into the raw materials from which a series of works to be entitled Peaceful Life in Anacortes will be created. The dedication of the final art pieces is scheduled to take place a year from now.
As I was driving to the event, the question of how art and activism interrelate popped into my head. I was able to talk with several of the participants about this question, and how they felt about the project in general. Tracy Powell, local stone sculpture brought a work of his entitled Peacemaker which included a re-purposed handgun he himself owned. Here are Tracy’s thoughts on the question of activism.
Art is communication. When you have an audience, it gives you the opportunity to get a message out.
Tracy also is involved with www.nomorebombs.org
Father Dale Johnson was in charge of removing the stocks and handles from the donated guns. He has spent decades working with refugees in the Middle East, and has experienced war first hand. When I posed the art and activism question to him, here is what he had to say.
We just had a World War II Japanese rifle donated which seems like a memorial to all who were killed or wounded in that conflict. Turning that into art is a physical way of expressing our spiritual belief.
A friend of Father Dale was also present at the event. Ron Medcalf is a military veteran, gunsmith, and NRA member. He volunteered his time and tools to dismantle the guns so they could be safely reworked. Ron didn’t appear to have any objection to the operation, and had some very encouraging things to say about our national discourse concerning guns.
We need to find a way to get along when discussing this issue. Anger has no place in the mix. All it does is eat up our emotions.
Paul Thorne took a break from the forge long enough to chat with me. I knew he had served in the military, and asked him how that experience influenced his participation in the event.
People need to recognize that a gun is not a play thing. It has one purpose, and that’s to kill people. Romanticizing about it is just crazy. Any one that has dealt with gun deaths or injuries, like policeman and ER doctors is traumatized by it. If you’ve ever been shot at, or seen someone killed by gunfire, like I have, it is not something you can forget.
The last artist I spoke with was Natalie Niblack. On a table against the building, she had several of her works displayed.
At the Breast of our Fathers is an interesting piece. It consists of a narrow wooden box with bullets fixed upright on the inside of the lid. A row of small ceramic baby heads are nestled inside. According to Natalie the work represents the hard lessons we learn in life. Next to it was an as yet untitled ceramic bust of a figure cradling a pistol. There is a curious beatific expression on the figure’s face.
The inspiration for this was an anecdotal story I heard of about a request that was made to the Vatican for a patron saint of guns. I am very influenced by religious iconography, and thought about the art dedicated to martyred saints when I created this, thus the handgun.
On the end of the table, a piece with ceramic pistols pointing at each other titled Civil Discourse sat. Natalie explained that she created the work as a metaphor for conversations about guns. More specifically, when only one person has a gun or an opinion, they are very likely to command all the attention. When two people are armed with a weapon or an opinion, the situation changes. She mentioned a similar work that had one gun painted black and another painted white, but she thought it might be too strong of a statement to bring to the event.
I asked her the question about art and activism, and she answered:
It depends on the artist’s viewpoint. I mean, if they paint a picture of a blue heron, that could be statement about beauty, the environment, many things.
Natalie has been involved with a variety of causes, including environmentalism and progressive politics.
This Saturday Sept. 22, another dismantling, forging event is scheduled from 10 to 2 at Gentry House 1208 7th st.
Entertainment Writer Mark Perschbacher…A man who will cross great barriers to find exceptional music, art, food, and beer. Mark is a long time Skagit County resident, contributor to, and supporter of local arts.