PETER W. MICHEL, Sculptor     Sculpture in Celebration of Self, Relationship and Community
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The Thea Bowman House Memorial Peace Garden
             Talk by Peter Michel at the Dedication celebration on September 16, 2009.

Thank you for being here to help celebrate the dedication of this very special place.

It has been a privilege and a joy for me to work with Jane Domingue and Sister Bernadette on this project.  There is such positive energy here. It’s really great.  It seems like such an unlikely thing to have happened in these economically trying times. This relatively small, non profit organization – the Thea Bowman House has been the source of perhaps the only monumental public art in the city of Utica in recent years.   But it is not surprising in that it is public art with a purpose.  It is public art that helps us to remember the precious young lives of the children taken from us in such a senseless way. It also helps us to remember our commitment to creating a peaceful world where such senseless acts occur no longer.

Peace Garden Totem        As we tell the story of this new public art - three basic questions come to mind:
How did this all come about?   How did we make it?  and What does it all mean?

Firstly - how did this all come about?   It was little over two years ago Sister Bernadette and her garden committee were searching for something to add to their garden that would help to make it special and help to convey their story.   When Anne Hill on her committee was in the gift shop at the Munson Williams she found a postcard image of one of my sculptures. It was colorful and contained images of children and when she shared it with Sister Bernadette, the bells went off.  Shortly after that I got a call from Sister Bernadette to ask if I’d be interested in creating a sculpture for their peace garden.  Would I be interested?!! Was I excited and what do you think I said?  

Over a period of a year we met and discussed four other designs as we explored and refined what we wanted. And you now see the result before you.     When the design was complete, grant applications were prepared and submitted to seek funding. Thanks to the generosity of the Stanley center for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, an Art Creating Community Grant was awarded to the Thea Bowman House to help make this all possible.   Added to the funding mix was the sale of t shirts, doves (for the wall, the garden and your desktop)  and raffle tickets for the 3 foot high wood maquette. I believe it is not too late to get your raffle tickets, if you haven’t already done that – the drawing will be held at the reception following the concert this evening.
                     The Peace Garden Totem
Secondly How did we make it – what is our technique?
Having been trained and worked as an architect, it is not surprising that my sculpture process is a bit like creating a building.      Most often my work is made up of a kit of parts and put together like a puzzle or - like a building.  Not long after I began using the computer for my architectural work, I used it as well for my sculpture - for design, presentation and construction.  When the basic design is set I work with a team of people to produce the sculpture. 

First there’s Jim Ayer the model maker from Marblehead who cuts puzzles for the Museum Store. With my computer drawing he cuts the parts for the maquette which I then paint.  Then my structural engineer: Bob Almy, from right here on Genesee Street, helps refine the design with the selection of the materials, and the design of the connections and base to insure its stability in a stiff wind.   Then I send the revised computer drawing in an email to North Easten Water Jet, a company in Amsterdam New York.  They have this fancy computer controlled machine - a quarter of a million dollar machine – an abrasive water jet cutter that can cut 3” of steel with a stream of water mixed with sand under 55,000 pounds per square inch pressure.  It cuts through the 3/8” aluminum sheets of this sculpture like it was butter.   

When the cutting is complete, I pick it up in my Uhaul rental van and take to East Syracuse to Transportation Repair Services - a company that normally paints and repairs trucks and farm equipment.  They weld the connectors to the main sculpture parts. They are especially trained to apply the 2 part Dupont Imron paint.  They are very excited to do a project that involves so many colors and is not a part of a truck – every time I show up they say - here comes the “people man”.     They also welded the Doves.  The doves were made of steel as originally they were to be attached to a steel fence.    The doves were then galvanized and powder coated by a local company - Hubble Galvanizing in New York Mills.  Finally the forms for the base were made by the expert carpenter Mike Brennan who is one of the Board Members for the Thea Bowman House.  And Mike had two of his friends who are expert concrete finishers who 
poured the concrete base.  Mike and his friend Damien helped assemble the first three fifths of the sculpture when we realized the ladders were not going high enough or safe enough so we called upon Jonathan Kirk, a renowned sculptor who was the studio manager of the nearby sculpture space for 20 years – Jonathan came here with his truck mounted crane and with his expertise in rigging and with the help of Mackay Rippey, my nephew-in-law, made the top 2 pieces go together quite easily.  And here we have it.
Dove on the Wall

Now lastly, what does it all mean? 

The sculpture is a marker in space that silently speaks for our peace seeking community. It also speaks with symbols – symbols informed by its form and color. (Like the totem poles of the northwest native Americans which create an emblem for a clan, this totem creates an emblem or a symbol for our community.)     

For our small garden we wanted something with a small footprint and a large presence.  The vertical height of the totem demands to be noticed – is symbolic of the bold stand our community is taking to create a peaceful world.


All of the people are a symbol of our community – a symbol of all of the children of our community including the 90 year olds. And the fact that they are standing on each other is a symbol of the support that we can and must be for each other if we are to reach our dream.   Now, stacking 21 people is no easy task.  It demands something of everyone involved.  Like an acrobat who needs to be in training to be an effective teammate we too need to be in training to create that peaceful place within all of our realms.   The globe is a symbol of the world and the sculpture reminds us that the world we create is in our hands – it’s up to us.   And the dove on top of the totem and on the wall – itself a symbol of peace and hope reminds us of the world we intend to create.

Dove and Globe
The colors are pure and cheerful and bring joy by their very presence.  There is also a boldness about them. They too demand our attention as they stand out from the background.  Also, Individual colors can be said to mean different things.  For example: Red is of the heart and symbolizes love, Yellow: joy and sunshine, Blue: calm and peace, Green is of the earth and growth, Orange: energy and warmth and enthusiasm, purple: wisdom, spirituality and nobility.  The combination of all of the colors -the rainbow colors: the rainbow is the spectacle after the rain. It is a symbol of God’s promise. It is also a symbol of inclusion, expressive of the diversity and vitality of our community.

You may have noticed that there are no faces.  This allows for all faces. Any face can be imagined, including our own.   It also does not limit how we must feel.  We can be smiling, angry, sad, puzzled, laughing out loud.  What ever way we feel is ok and is included.   And regardless of how we are feeling at any moment in time, we can still be a support to others in our community.
                   As we dedicate this place it makes me think of a short poem by my favorite poet e. e. cummings.  He wrote:
Detail       .
       .                 love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)                            
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds

.    .
        . In conclusion Let this be a place of love and as we dedicate this place let these symbols remind us of our own dedication to creating a peaceful place within ourselves, our families and within all of our communities. - let these symbols reminds us too, that we can support each other to that end.

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2009 by Peter W. Michel                Posted 12-11-2009   updated 11-29-16
 Peter W. Michel, sculptor  185 Brookside Lane Fayetteville, NY 13066  315-632-4780