On a grassy block of land near the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center sits the Peace Pole, Columbia's newest piece of public art. This is now one of tens of thousands in the world placed by Peace Pole Initiatives —organizations that install displays of artistic language in places where people believe in recognizing peace.
One Columbia, a major nonprofit for all Columbia arts, and Elaine Frick, a member of Columbia's Peace Pole Initiative, unveiled the art on Jan. 11. According to Frick, the work stands for the promotion of cultural unity, respect and kindness, and it speaks out against the state's involvement in nuclear weapon production.
This tradition of a small offering to humanity — a Peace Pole — was first seen ten years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The Peace Pole Initiative's fight against the production of nuclear weapons has continued as more initiatives have formed around the world, such as the pole now in Columbia.
At the event, Frick placed an explanation for the necessity of the installation on the welcome table for attendees to read upon arrival.
“We stand on the brink of ever more deeply-entrenched social injustice, unending pandemics, irreversible climate change, polemical political division, and nuclear annihilation, but these outcomes are not inevitable,” the document read. “Peace in families, communities, cities, and nations is possible when we act humanely and expend resources sustainably.”
Documents showing South Carolina’s involvement in plutonium pits and Tritium Producing Burnable Absorber Rods were also on the table for attendees. Along with these documents, the initiative said that the pits and rods are created solely for nuclear weapons, and it's imperative for the initiative to raise awareness for the issue and prevent South Carolina from using this harmful resource.
All four sides have two languages inscribed in the wood representing Columbia's population. People of those different backgrounds came to the event to share their language’s version of the phrase “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Along with the original use of English and Japanese, other languages such as Hebrew, Indi, Arabic, Spanish, Gullah and the Indigenous language of Catawba are part of the commemoration.
Frick said the 8-foot tall, wooden art piece and the organization stands alongside the international Peace Pole movement and its original message to advocate for peace and speak out against nuclear weapons.
“Speaking out for peace is always important," Frick said. "Peace Poles around the world are often placed at a specific location because of a specific concern ... Here in Columbia, I think we were just proud to place it there."
Executive director for One Columbia, Lee Snelgrove, said the organization believes public art is a visual representation of what a community cares about. His organization’s involvement in the Vista Peace Pole was to choose an artist who could express how supportive Columbia is of international cultures and its devotion to a peaceful society.
Snelgrove said they chose Eileen Blyth as the artist because her sketch's uniqueness rang true to the initiative’s saying, “peace is a verb as well as a noun.”
During the early stages of planning, Blyth woke up one night and thought about how churches ring bells to celebrate the end of war. She jumped out of bed and scribbled the finishing touch the Peace Pole needed — a bronze bell for interactivity.
“That way people can go up and ring a bell as if saying 'This is who we are as Columbians and this is our shared humanity,'” Snelgrove said.
Throughout Blyth's creation process, she said she kept “little bits and pieces that you wouldn’t think about” in mind, and every decision had a purpose.
She remembers the job being tedious but rewarding. As a former typographer herself, she paid close attention to the readability and had a fabricator help her use a water jet to cut through the Peace Pole's metal pieces.
“We all have these lofty ideas of why we make art,” Blyth said.
It took Blyth two years to perfect her artwork. Being at the event and observing the audience showed her how much it meant to create something that other people find inspiring and to give them a sense of hope, she said.
She said the ceremony’s language readers seemed to say the pole’s phrase with ownership as they rang the bell and musicians sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth”.
“Art is relevant,” Blyth said. “This piece of art is saying something, it's doing something, it's acting, it's calling people to action.”