By Bryn Pennington, Friends School Art Teacher

Our middle school students love creating art. I love helping them develop their creative expression. When I can weave a larger world mission into an art studio project, it’s a plus for everyone. This week, our 6th graders had the chance to do both.

On March 18, the 6th grade students interviewed contemporary artist Lin Evola during their recent art studio project. Lin is the creator of Peace Angels, a creative project turned non-profit that began as her response to street violence in Los Angeles. When Lin learned of the LAPD gun collection program, she gained permission to melt down the collected weapons and transform them into symbols of peace. Her most famous works are the Renaissance Peace Angel housed in the permanent collection of the 9/11 Memorial Museumin New York City, and the Johannesburg “Spirit of Africa” sculpture unveiled by Desmond Tutu in 2003.

Bryn helps Aiyana with her Peace Angel

6th graders were invited to sculpt their own Peace Angels based on Lin’s words: “Before we can have peace in our world, we need to make peace in our home”. During this project, the 6th graders became curious about the artist and her process. They decided to interview her directly. They brainstormed rich questions, then made the call.

Rohan’s question was about her start as an artist. Lin was born an artist, painting and drawing early in her toddler years. By the end of high school, she was preparing for gallery shows in her hometown, Chicago.

Sadie next asked about her artistic inspiration. Art and life are the same for her, she mused, and art is her mode of expressing and exploring issues that call to her in our world.

Zahara inquired about her process and the time involved to make each artwork. Lin first “captures the lightning” by connecting with a concept. Next is the longest part of her process: researching and making drawings for an angel specific to a place or city. Depending on the size of the sculpture, assistants help her wield and sculpt the models, which range from 3’ to 11’ tall. After, she takes her sculpture to a foundry to be cast as metal from the molten weapons. This part of the process can take over 6 months.

Henry works on his Peace Angel

Sadie asked what inspired Lin to first create the Renaissance Peace Angel. Lin began the first angel drawings in 1994, years before the 9/11 tragedy, as a “Renaissance of Humanity”. The sculpture stands for life and a reminder to lift each other up, rather than kill each other. She intended for it to be placed at the World Trade Center in New York, a place where people all over the world came to visit and work. Lin transported the Renaissance Angel to New York City in October 2001 as an act of gratitude for those working at Ground Zero. Over time, hundreds and hundreds of firefighters, police and workers signed their names and messages of thanks at the Angel’s base. Their words remain.

Aiyana asked why the peace angels are so big. Lin reflect that their scale really makes a different impression…more of an impact. Each is made from collected weapons and discarded nuclear casings, so the bigger the sculpture the more weapons are off of the streets. Lin’s current proposed project for a 64’ tall Angel, for example, would remove one million weapons from the world!

Zahara’s angel receives her wings

Henry asked what the Peace Angels represent to her, and why she choose angels. As an artist, Lin needed a symbol that could lift human beings up….one that could get “humanity beyond ourselves”. She also needed a symbol that could inspire, but still be relatable. So, she choose angels.

Zahara wanted to know how many angels Lin has made. Two Peace Angels have been installed so far, as well as many dozens of smaller models. For example, President Bill Clinton and Jordanian Queen Noor al Hussein each accepted smaller angel sculptures from Lin. Her next big projects include twelve 11’ Peace Angels throughout Los Angeles and three monumental sculptures in New York City, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley.

Aiyana asked how much each sculpture costs and where she gets the money to make them. A family friend gifted Lin money for the initial foundry work on the Renaissance Peace Angel. She now funds all of her work through sales of art and jewelry. Some patrons purchase angel sculptures for $250,000, but most donations are small. Because so many people donate money toward the Peace Angels, Lin considers them a project by and for everyone.

Installing the Renaissance Peace Angel at the 9/11 Memorial Museum

The final question gave Lin some time to reflect. What was a recent accomplishment or struggle as an artist and what did she learn from it? For Lin, it was letting go of the Renaissance Peace Angel after it’s installation at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. She had spent over 30 years thinking about it, creating it, and then moving it and installing it at its new home. She likened it to raising her son and then sending him out into the world. With its installation at the Museum, Lin joined the few hundred living American artists whose work is part of a permanent collection. Feeling this accomplishment, Lin set the Renaissance Peace Angel free and can focus on new cities, angels and art.

As the interview ended, the 6th graders put on the finishing touches on their own clay angels…the wings. The spirit of Lin’s work and the sound of her voice resonated in the art studio. The final step was to bury a paper scroll inside each sculpture. On each scroll, students had written a “trouble” –  a regret, source of pain, or something they found it hard to forgive themselves for. As the angels are fired, the scrolls burn to ash. Whatever “trouble” kept students from finding peace is gone.

The Peace Angels project has a profound impact on our students. I hope they share their work with you and inspire you to spread more Peace Angels throughout our world. We’re honored to be doing our part at Friends School to bring Lin’s message of “holding up the light” to our community and beyond.

Challenging minds. Nurturing spirits. Honoring individuality.