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Swords into Plowshares: Peaceful Weapon Recycling

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. -Isaiah 2:4

The familiar Bible verse is repeated in the book of Micah. There are those who are doing just that, whether they draw inspiration from Isaiah or simply from a desire for peace and a safer world. Here are eight projects that make deadly weapons into something to inspire that desire in all of us.

1. Shovels from Guns

Artist Pedro Reyes collected 1,527 guns from the citizens of Culiacán, Mexico by offering coupons for appliances and electronics in exchange. He used the weapons for a project called Palas por Pistolas, in which Reyes had the guns melted down and recast into 1,527 shovel heads to be used to plant 1,527 trees all over the community. Culiacán, which has a high rate of gunshot deaths, also has a botanical garden that commissions artists for community enrichment projects.

2. Furniture from Mines

Naissaar Island in the Gulf of Finland had a large factory that produced marine mines for the Soviet Army. The explosives were burned when the Soviets left the island, leaving thousands of casings behind. Estonian sculptor Mati Karmin has used scrap metal as an art media for a large part of his career. He uses those marine mine casings to create furniture and other useful objects, like light fixtures, bathtubs, and fireplaces -Karmin even made a fully functioning toilet from a mine casing!

3. Reliquaries by Al Farrow

British artist Al Farrow uses guns, bullets, and other military items to construct religious buildings in miniature: churches, synagogues, and mosques, as well as full size religious items and symbols, such as reliquaries and menorahs. The art is a statement about the role of religion in war and other atrocities.

4. Throne of Weapons

The 15-year civil war in Mozambique ended in 1992. By then almost a million people had died as a direct result of violence, with millions more maimed, displaced, or starved. Weapons had been shipped to warring factions from countries all over the world. In 1995, the Christian Council of Mozambique set up a program called “Transforming Arms into Tools” to turn some of those weapons into art as a memorial and a reminder of the horrors of war. One of the sculptures is the Throne of Weapons by artist Cristovao Canhavato consisting of guns originating in seven different countries. Image by Flickr user rvacapinta.

5. Vest of Bullets

Ross Rodriguez works in 2-dimensional art: photography, drawing, and printmaking. But he stepped into 3D territory in 2005 when he created the work Bullet Proof Vest from 30-caliber rifle shells.

6. Memorial Sculpture

The Peace Art Project Cambodia was launched in Phnom Penh in 2003 to gather weapons from thirty years of war and turn them into works of art. The project was founded by artist Sasha Constable and small weapons specialist Neil Wilford, both British citizens. Students used scrap metal and recovered weapons to create everything from small sculptures to furniture to large monuments.

7. The Gun Sculpture

In 2001, artists Wallis Kendal and Sandra Bromley took 7,000 guns of all kinds, from small handguns to rocket launchers, and fused them into a monolith called The Gun Sculpture. The purpose of the piece is to encourage discussions about violence. The artwork has toured all over, most recently as an installation at the United Nations complex in Vienna, Austria, where it was part of The Art of Peacekeeping exhibit last summer.

8. Megatons to Megawatts

In perhaps the most encouraging recycling program ever, the Megatons to Megawatts project pays Russia for weapons-grade uranium and turns it into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants in the US. So far, the program has eliminated the equivalent of 16,000 nuclear warheads! In addition, the Russian Federation receives an influx of cash they desperately need and fewer worries about nuclear disposal, while the US has downblended enough uranium into fuel to replace three years of crude oil imports. Image by Flickr user Mike_tn.

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
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History
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.

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