Red tape couldn't stymie sculptor Esther Augsburger. After a mere three years—a brief moment by bureaucratic standards—the artist's dream for a protest against gun violence, made of disarmed handguns and a huge, steel plowshare, has materialized in Judiciary Square in Washington, D.C. Augsburger described her vision for CT in "A .38-calibre Plowshare" (Oct. 2, 1995, p. 38) but had no idea that in such a relatively short time she could have beaten the odds and cut through the red tape of a city famous for its red tape. She gives the credit all to God.
Monument proposals in the capital face a trying array of local committees, then other inquisitions occur on the federal level. This process has interrupted such commissions as Franklin D. Roosevelt's memorial or the statue commemorating women in the military by as much as eight years—one sculpture proposed by a private citizen has been pending for 38 years. Nevertheless, Augsburger engaged in the fray knowing that God supported the effort. In retrospect, she is still amazed by the outcome.
On September 9, 1997, before 500 onlookers, the 16-foot high, four-ton plowshare form was lowered by crane into a permanent cement and steel base. Augsburger fervently hopes that it will remain there as a memorial to every child and adult destroyed by gunfire—a considerable constituency.
Symbols of life and death
Augsburger knew the project was particularly blessed by God when the chairman of the formidable Commission of Fine Arts, who has the final say on such projects, asked to be quoted on the record as approving the project "with enthusiasm."
While guns stand for death, the plowshare is a symbol of preparing the ground for life-sustaining growth. Augsburger, a Mennonite who lived near the capitol for 14 years and felt the pain of violence each day in her work with inner-city children, said in her dedication speech, "When we lay down our instruments of violence and turn our attention to implements which cultivate life, we will have peace. … We want this sculpture to help bear the pain of those who have lost loved ones by gun violence. And we hope that it can be a symbol of joy . …"
For a time, after the sculpture's installation, gang members met regularly to discuss peacekeeping; Augsburger reports, however, that gang leaders ultimately did not support that effort, and so it withered. Undaunted, the artist begins work this summer on a commission to honor Christians martyred in the Soviet gulags. She will travel to Siberia to review the site and interview families of the victims. As she knows from experience, the work of sowing peace and making restitution never ends.
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