Let me tell you how one of my Peace Poles touched a man named Wei. He had come from Guangdong province in China 20 years ago with his wife. His children were born here and were assimilated, but he had spent all his time working in his restaurant.
He spoke little English and did not feel part of the community.
He had not heard that a large granite peace pole was being put in the nearby park. He had never heard of a peace pole and had never been to the park. He had not been to many places other than school functions that his children were part of and no one spoke Mandarin at those.
Then one day a woman came to the counter in his restaurant in need of someone who could speak Mandarin. Wei’s son came out of the kitchen to help. Both he and his sister were fluent in Mandarin, but when he heard that the woman wanted someone to come to the park to read the Mandarin translation on the new peace pole out loud to a crowd at a dedication ceremony, he went into the kitchen and got his father.
It took a bit of explaining for Wei to grasp what it was about. When he did he told his son to do it, but his son said Wei should do it. Soon Wei was nodding Yes and bowing and smiling.
No one from the community ever had reached out to him before. And now they wanted him to be part of a ceremony to dedicate a piece of public art, the new peace pole.
It was the grandest ceremony he ever had been to. Size matters with monuments like peace poles. This one made a real statement. And since it was granite it was going to be there for a very long time. This was a serious monument. When they handed him the microphone he stood next to the Mandarin translation and read it out loud to the crowd feeling like he was part of something important. It was the first time he felt like America saw him and knew he was here.
Ever since, once in a while, he and his wife go for walks in the park to walk around the peace pole.
”Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.”
Peace poles are a tradition that began 50 years ago. Since then more than 200,000 have been made by people in various countries and planted everywhere from the North Pole to the Gaza Strip. Usually they are planted in ceremonies at which they have been dedicated by everyone from President Jimmy Carter to Mother Theresa. They are not responses to any specific armed conflict. As there are monuments to war, these are monuments to peace.
Usually mine are purchased by non-profit groups and “planted” in parks or on campuses or at churches. Some also go to private gardens at people’s homes. One was ordered by a family that was designing a garden around their peace pole for their daughter’s wedding. Quite a few have been given as gifts, sometimes from a scout troop or a graduating class after a period of fund raising. Sometimes to a soldier as a homecoming gift.
Sometimes people spend a year raising funds before they order their peace poles. Broad based community support for such projects is common and can come from everything from a hosiery company to a cigarette racing team to a flea market. There are good people everywhere.
What kind of person makes peace poles anyway?
Once, long ago, on the phone someone was testing me about who I was to be making peace poles and what my work was like. Which is legitimate. I understand that and don’t mind it. But one of the questions she asked was whether I had a peace pole in my own yard. Later I repeated the question to my wife and we had a good laugh.
I had three by my front door, five around back, peace poles leaning on the side of my house, in my basement, in the garage. They were taking over the yard because they were different designs I was developing. I wanted to see them outside from a distance. I wanted to see the different designs at different times – at night, in the morning before the sun hit them, or at noon when the light was blinding. I needed to walk around a corner, happen to notice one across the yard and think, “Maybe I should try . . . ” If after a few days I still wondered about it, I altered one or made a new one.
That was years ago. My yard is less crowded with them now – only three peace poles (that changes) and two other sculptures. The experiments I do now are bigger, more expensive, require bigger tools and have a bigger downside when they are not good enough the first time out. But they are cooler and last forever. For an artist, creating new and different ones can be the most interesting part.
Other art of mine can be seen at joel.com