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Shine a light on peace

I’m sitting on my deck in the early morning sun, sharing the yard with a mother deer and her two fawns grazing in the grass nearby, and I’m enjoying the lovely flowers in the pots surrounding me.

These little beauties are thriving this year, finally, because I moved them farther into the sun — giving them more light.

Reflecting on this, I’m reminded that we all need more light, especially in times of such darkness. Which brings me to the Ashland Peace Wall, and the effort underway in the community to provide lighting to illuminate its vision and energize its power to bring viewers some inner peace and love into the world.

Originally called the Peace Fence, the Peace Wall is a collection of colored tiles mounted on a steel frame in front of the Ashland library on Siskiyou Boulevard. Each tile bears a photograph of a banner from the original Peace Fence, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Iraq War was raging and antiwar activist and artist Jean Bakewell was frustrated and wanted to do something. She also wanted to do something to honor her brother and sister-in-law, who had recently died. As she walked along the railroad chain link fence behind A Street, an idea came: Invite artists and friends to make peace banners to hang on the fence as a surprise on Mother’s Day.

Excitement spread through town, and on Mother’s Day 2007, the city witnessed a gathering at the new Peace Fence. The Peace Choir sang “This Little Light of Mine” in front of more than 200 banners for peace, each 3-by-4-feet or more, with impassioned pleas for peace and oneness.

Eventually more banners were made and sent to Ashland from Vietnam vets, and from all over the West Coast, Canada and Norway. Children from Ashland and surrounding communities made banners, one with colorful little handprints.

The banners hung proudly until a few of them were stolen and the fence was vandalized. Ashland police pledged more protection and stepped up their patrols. There was no more vandalism for that entire year.

Then early the following year, on a cold rainy morning, Jean came upon a scene of devastation. Several banners had been slashed from the fence and stomped into the mud. The waves of outrage and grief were palpable in the community. It was unfathomable. Jean, the diminutive Brit, pronounced that we must move to transform this act of toxic anger into the energy of love.

Plans were set in motion to make the Peace Fence into a permanent Peace Wall, and to put it in a more accessible space for the world to see. All of the banners, including the repaired damaged ones, were photographed and the new plan to have ceramic tiles was made. Assortments of other items were grouted around the tiles at Illahe Gallery and Studio with the help of dozens of volunteers over many months. A steel frame was engineered into a “wave” of peace.

The city was contacted, and after years of planning and raising money, the new artwork would be installed on the sidewalk in front of the Ashland library.

The installation and celebration ceremony was held Sept. 21, 2010. The only thing left to put the icing on the cake would be for the Peace Wall to be lit at night.

The time is Now. Nine years later, all are invited to join us at the lighting ceremony at the Peace Wall to “Shine a Light on Peace.” The city has given its approval, and the lights will be turned on at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace.

Peace House has been a long-time partner with the Peace Wall project and will accept tax-deductible donations for the cost of the lights until Aug. 31 at www.peacehouse.net/peacewall. If you visit the website to make a donation, you can also watch a video showing the original Peace Fence with the banners, and listen to the late Dave Marsten and Tami Marsten singing “We Can be Kind” in the background.

Donors can also send a check, with the designation to “SLP,” to: Peace House, P.O. Box 524, Ashland, OR 97520

For more information, email kcutter@charter.net

Click here to see the video of the peace fence and hear "We can be kind."

Cynthia Bronson is an Ashland resident, peace activist, artist, member of Lithia Artisans and supporter of the Peace Fence and Peace Wall.

A banner made for the Peace Fence in 2007 that is now on a tile in front of the Ashland library.