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The Artist

Not everyone has a gut level understanding of the need to do mission driven work. Just as not everyone understands how overwhelming can be the need to do creative work. Combine those two and you create a person you'd probably rather not have be the one trying to put your grandchildren through college.

When I was in college I thought that the most important thing I could do for the human race would be to work for peace. Unfinished copper peace poleTo that end, I became a political science major and explored a career at the United Nations, our only department of peace. Eventually I had to face the fact that I did not belong in politics or in a bureaucracy even if it was the UN. I had been denying my artistic side because artists starve to death and I did not know what an artist could do for world peace. But my proclivities and talents, the things that wake me up in the morning needing to be dealt with, are artistic. So finally I gave in and worked in the arts while continually looking for how to serve the cause of peace through art.

Above right is an unfinished five-sided copper peace pole.


Then in 1999 someone saw a sculpture I was working on and asked if I would submit a proposal to them. They were looking for sculptors to submit designs for a peace pole they wanted to plant. I had never heard of peace poles before but did some research and discovered that peace poles are art that is about peace.

Where was this when I was in college?

The only ones you could purchase at the time were wooden posts with plastic plaques on them. Have you ever seen a war memorial made out of wood? I designed a multi-ton granite peace pole for them. Since size and substance and shape have as much to do with the message as the text, I designed other peace poles that were not wood to see if anyone wanted them.

Entrance to workshop where I make peace poles

At left is where I make the peace poles.

I now have explored making peace poles out of many things - stone, stainless steel, copper, Corten (weatherable steel), wood, bronze, steel, resin, etc. I even tried making a peacepole out of aluminum soft drink cans (hey, it's recycling).

Metal bending brakeMy artistic side continually ends up exploring and experimenting to see what else can be created.

This is a brake I use for bending metal.


Like I continually experiment to create peace poles that are more lighthearted. I want to maintain the traditions, but shouldn't some poles about peace be a little less formal? These are not war memorials. Shouldn't some of them be something at which kids giggle? But how do you make that happen without its looking like a hippie-fringe movement?

I worked on that for years without coming up with a solution. Then I made an innocent quip.

A customer had ordered thirty resin peace poles for a group. I put each in its own box and put all of the boxes in one crate. The boxes were numbered from #1 to #30 to indicate to whom each went. But I'm a creative. I have a hard time doing repetitive non-creative work, like assembling boxes and numbering them. So in the middle of the crate I put one box numbered #0.

They tell me that the delivery truck arrived on a hot summer day and left crate filled with peace poles in the middle of an expanse of burning hot asphault. Rather than drag the heavy crate they began removing the peace poles right there. Halfway through they found the box numbered zero. They groaned that there was no number zero and the whole numbering system was off and they were going to have to open every one of the boxes to see which languages were on which and from that try to determine who was supposed to get which one. Frustrated they ripped open box #0 and saw that in four languages it said "Peace, Dude." They tell me they laughed so hard that they could not stand up and, even though the pavement was burning hot, ended up lying on their backs laughing too hard to get up.

That was a better response than I had hoped for. But more came. They did not hide that pole in a garage as a joke that had gotten its laugh. They shared it. It got such a positive response that now when they go to schools for peace ceremonies, they take that pole along. Here is what they wrote me about it.

“It does have a real life with our students, for sure...  I remember when you told me that you wanted a peace pole that would appeal to school-age children.  Something "off beat" that might have a sense of humor - causing a person to think in a different way.  Your goal continues to be accomplished!  That was one "outside the box" idea that works each time the pole moves to a new class and school.
“I'm so glad you shared that one and didn't just dismiss the thought out of hand.”

Ya work and ya work and ya work, and then some flippant quip uttered (on a peace pole) in period of boredom and frustration turns out to be the simple solution.

Portrait of the Artist

Joel Selmeier . . . . @Sculptur3

A bit more about why I make peace poles is in the middle of an article at this link about people who choose less lucrative careers in order to do work more meaningful to them than making money.

An art dealer asked me if I could make mobiles for her. She had had an artist making them for her, but he had a drug problem and she had to stop working with him. Her goal had been to establish an artist as a creator of them and then try to get a commission for a large one in a commercial building. She asked if I had ever made a mobile.

As my mind raced to formulate the answer on the spot, it occurred to me for the first time in decades that I had begun making mobiles when I was 7 years old. At that time, when my friends were playing baseball and collecting baseball cards, I was collecting pictures of Alexander Calder mobiles and stabiles that I cut out of magazines. In my bedroom I created versions of my own. Decades later it was a mobile 45 feet long that I had put in front of an art museum that led to a commission that introduced me to peace poles.

Also when I was 7 years old, in school one spring an art teacher told our class that we were going to make 3D paper bunnies for Easter out of coils of paper. I went up to her after she had given us the directions and asked if I had to make a bunny again. She appeared not to like children. She snapped, "Well, what else would you make?"
"I don't know. A horse?"
"How would you make a horse?"
I tried explaining. She didn't get it, but snapped, "Ok. Ok. Go ahead."

When the other students were arranging our projects for display, they treated mine as though it were high art in need of special protection. One student came to my desk to check with me to make sure that the way they were handling it was okay. It was the first thing I ever did in school that the other students responded to in a positive way. It also was the beginning of the feeling, shared by many artists, that the work really wasn't that good, but only good enough to have fooled some people into thinking it was - which is how I always feel when people are impressed with something I have created. I always wish it were better. Which leaves me continually trying to make it so.

Maybe that is my artist's statement. "I'll try to do better."