In celebration of EMU’s centennial, a new sculpture has arrived on campus. Monday, a service was held to dedicate the installation of “Guns into Plowshares,” a work created by the mother- son duo of Esther and Michael Augsburger. Currently, the sculpture stands near the Sadie Hartzler Library.
“EMU is fortunate to have a powerful visual image,” said Dr. Daryl Byler, “that while gun violence is a disease of epidemic proportion in our culture, there is hope: weapons of death can be melded into implements that sustain life.”
The sculpture takes its theme from Isaiah 2:4, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” The 16 feet tall steel sculpture is the head of a plow’s blade, coated with 3,000 guns that were taken off the streets of Washington D.C. in a no-questions-asked gun buyback program in 1994. Riddick Bowe, a boxing champion, funded the program, paying $100 for each gun. In 2011, Esther wrote, “The guns were not melted down, but welded onto the form as a full expression of their being instruments of violence.”
For 12 years “Guns into Plowshares” stood across the District police headquarters in D.C.. Then, in 2008, the Judiciary Square was renovated, and the sculpture was pushed aside in favor of a fountain. It was thrown into a side lot and mostly forgotten. Esther offered to raise money to bring the sculpture into a more accessible place to be seen, but the police refused.
Dr. Gloria Rhodes said, “Violence of any kind is as significant [of a] challenge in our world now as it was when Esther and Michael were inspired to create a work of art that did not hide guns by melting them down, but put them into view as part of sculpture advocating for less violence and fewer guns on the streets.”
The visible guns do not create a beautiful image. They are shocking in their blatant display and leave those who see it uncomfortable: uncomfortable in the knowledge that this work of art, designed to remind those who witness it of the violence that fills this world, was easily gotten rid of in favor of a decorative fountain.
“The sculpture’s message that there are nonviolent alternatives for transforming conflict has become even more important,” said Byler. According to the Gun Violence Archive, gun violence killed 15,078 people last year. In 2015, 13,499 people were killed. As of this year, there have already been 45,500 incidents of gun violence that have been reported, and 11,326 of those resulted in death.
Rhodes commented further, “The message [of “Guns into Plowshares”] is as relevant today as it was when Isaiah told of his vision of God’s kingdom.”
As Esther told a reporter for the Washington Post in 2010, “it’s always relevant to lay down our weapons and have peace.”