A woman promoting peace poles was trying to arrange for children in elementary schools to paint their own, and arrange for a couple of larger poles elsewhere in her community. Someone local criticized the effort saying that to passersby the posts do not ring out “Peace” and thought the artist helping them was just trying to make a quick buck. She was meeting him for coffee to talk about it. So I wrote this for her.
A vocabulary for peace
When we place a peace pole at a school we are teaching a visual vocabulary that communicates the thought Peace. We especially are doing that when we plant poles substantial enough to be considered monuments. All those monuments in Washington, DC are there for a reason. They communicate the legitimacy of the stories they tell about the intentions and goals of our founders and our government, about democracy and freedom. As there are monuments to war, there also should be monuments to peace.
Why is it a pole?
It started in Japan where they have a tradition that predates messages about peace on poles. Long before that they had poles all over their country with text aligned vertically to commemorate everything from school graduations to tsunami disasters. In about 1955, when Hiroshima still was a devastated landscape, Masahisa Goi wrote “May peace prevail on earth” on such a pole. He had it translated into a different language on each side. Somebody saw it and wanted one. Now there are a couple hundred thousand of them around the world.
Sculptors and non-sculptors have tried many times to make sculptures that represent peace. I have searched them out and tried myself. None of them communicate peace to people passing by. But the people who know about peace poles get that message every time they see one. It is a humble, visual vocabulary more and more people are getting to know.
Why the Excitement?
For years I, myself, did not understand why people were so excited to receive even the cheapest peace poles I made. Finally, a friend explained that they see this movement. They want to be part of it. And I send them the ticket – even when it is only a cheap, vinyl pole.
I do not make the vinyl ones anymore, or the wooden ones. But for people who want those, I have an extensive page on how to make your own: https://peacepole.com/make-your-own/ The vast majority of the people who go to my site go there for that.
Why I still make them
As an artist, I find it frustrating never to be able to make anything but a pole (except off season when I do). I also dislike the fact that 85% of my time is spent at the computer, either creating the artwork necessary to make a peace pole, or communicating with the people who ask about them, or working on the translations. None of that is creative and I do not get paid for any of that. A number of times I have considered retiring from making peace poles, but no one else makes stone or stainless ones. If you are a university wanting to put one in front of the main entrance to your biggest building, a wooden post doesn’t do it. Aluminum isn’t much better.
I have had people call me for stone peace poles saying that quotes they got from people in other industries that make things from stone were in the $25,000 range. Financially, mine should be too, but few people would spend that. That is why I am the only one who makes them. It does not pay.
Someday, when there is more awareness about them, perhaps people will be willing to pay realistic prices. I will be gone by then. I predict a gap during which fewer substantial peace poles will be made. I have seen some created by local artists who were given a grant to make their first one. It’s part of why I have not retired yet. My first ones were not much good either. But that was twenty years ago. I would get an apprentice to carry on what I have learned, but the apprentice would have to be independently wealthy to survive. My house is paid for. I have no dependents. I live cheap and work hard.
I would like to see the day when all peace poles were 14 feet tall and with enough girth to be right for that height. No one is going to pay for that at this time. I make the biggest stone ones that people can plant without a crane or a contractor. Most people interested in them have enough on their plates without having to deal with logistics beyond a post hole digger and some volunteers.
Most peace poles are 6 feet tall after planting. Those cost what people can imagine paying at this time. For the few people who can imagine paying more there is my work. I am hoping what will come of my work is an expanded awareness of the value of bigger and better. Stature speaks. Deeply. The bigger and better ones still need to be poles to be part of the vocabulary. And they still need to have text on them. They need to be instantly recognizable as Peace Poles. But there need to be more that are 14 feet tall and big enough around to hug.