August 30, 2015

Beating Plowshares into Swords and Cannons into Statues

O' beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
from The End of Innocence, by Don Henley (lyrics) & Bruce Hornsby (music), 1989

Battlefield, Bridge and Statue

On this site, minute men and colonial militia fought against British soldiers on April 19, 1775, during one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.  The battlefield in Concord, MA is now Minute Man National Historical Park.  

The Minute Man Statue depicts a farmer with one hand on his plow, the other holding a musket.  According to the Park's website, "Minute Men were expected to keep their arms and equipment with them at all times, and in the event of an alarm, be ready to march at a minute's warning - hence they were called 'minute men'."

Minute Man
Contemplating the statue, I thought of Don Henley's lyrics lamenting the Reagan era's expanded  militarization, and his twist on the Biblical plea for peace from Isaiah 2:4, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares..."  This verse urges transforming instruments of war into useful everyday items.  A plowshare is part of a plow, an agricultural implement used to prepare soil for planting.  

"When is the time to take up arms?" I wondered.  The Minute Men were heroes for putting down their plows and picking up their guns.

Statue, River, Sky

I often choose to make multiple exposures (see above), combining various elements simultaneously, as a method to abstractly portray the complexity of reality.  The results sometimes depict ambiguity, sometimes clarity.

The Sound of Revolution

The pedestal of the Minute Man Statue boasts this stanza from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Concord Hymn", including the metaphorical gem, "Here the embattled farmers stood, And fired the shot heard round the world."

Shot Heard Round the World

Artist Daniel Chester French melted down Civil War cannons to create the bronze Minute Man Statue.  Beating swords into art!

Peace Symbol
Homer Gunn's sculpture, "Peace Symbol", located on Veterans Memorial Mall in Greenfield, Mass., gives form to the Biblical entreaty.

Could You Make Anything Out of a Drone?

Creating, making art, capturing images, and using my hands, all deepen my connection to my artistic predecessors and the issues and ideas I grapple with.  I invite you to take a look a this video, which portrays my creative process of block printing a Revolutionary War Minute Man:

When I create photographs, four plus decades of experience are distilled into fractions of a second.  I love to balance this approach with the hours of time spent to perfect a block print:

Minute Man
As I labored over carving the details of the Minute Man's clothes, boots, straps, plow, buckles and buttons, I marveled at the resourcefulness of individuals in this early industrial era.  Who made the boots?  Who made the plow handles?  How did this all get done?  Oh, and by the way, in our spare time, let's fight a War of Independence.  Amazing.  We have it so easy today, in some ways.

The Art of Making Weapons

How about this display of musket balls and the mold for making them at the Park's Museum?  These musket balls (bullets) were made by hand, one by one.

Artist, educator and photojournalist John Nordell, Assistant Professor of Communication at American International College in Springfield, Mass., blogs about the creative process at