Once Upon A Time Thirteen – Pinwheels For Peace

This is a post about the Pinwheels for Peace project undertaken at Miscoe Hill School in September, 2005. This is the thirteenth in a series of Legacy Posts about projects that happened early on in my art classroom. Recently I was able to tap into some archived photos that I thought had long ago disappeared. I’ve decided to write some blog posts incorporating these photos to share the memories and/or inspire others to try these projects. Some are very dear to me because I took risks with my students and the end result was big learning for all of us, especially me. Also, in my nineteenth year of teaching now, I realize that ideas, projects, and programs come and go, and sometimes come back again. These art projects are just a memory now, and I believe they are worth remembering and preserving. The first post in the series can be found here, and the rest of them follow. Simply search Once Upon A Time in the categories on the front page of the blog.

Pinwheels for Peace is an art installation project started in 2005 by Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan, who were art teachers at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, Florida, as a way for their students to express their feelings about what’s going on in the world and in their lives.  The project was quickly embraced by their students and the entire school community and by millions of art teachers, teachers, parents, children and adults who desire peace in our world.

Here is a description of the intent of the project from the Pinwheels for Peace website:

Everyday, we are bombarded with television images, video games, music, and magazine articles/newspapers that give importance to conflict and war. Violence has become commonplace and accepted as part of our society and, for some, it is a way of life. It is our hope that through the Pinwheels for Peace project, we can make a public visual statement about our feelings about war/ peace/ tolerance/ cooperation/ harmony/ unity and, in some way, maybe, awaken the public and let them know what we are thinking. 

This is not political. Peace doesn’t necessarily have to be associated with the conflict of war, it can be related to violence/intolerance in our daily lives, to peace of mind.  To each of us, peace can take on a different meaning, but, in the end, it all comes down to a simple definition: a state of calm and serenity, with no anxiety, the absence of violence, freedom from conflict or disagreement among people or groups of people.

A pinwheel is a childhood symbol – it reminds us of a time when things were simple, joyful, peaceful. A pinwheel is easily made using just about any type of material, from copy paper, to thin plastic, to lightweight metal. The stick of the pinwheel can be as simple as a pencil or as intricate as a carved stick or metal rod. Pinwheels can be made as small as one inch in diameter or as large as desired – limited only by the creator’s materials and motivation. Pinwheels can be minimal or very complex – imagination, creativity (and a mild breeze) are the only variables needed.

In 2005 I was teaching art to students in grades four through seven. I had thirty classes that met for thirty-five minutes once each week – I saw 750 students! The two art teachers from the elementary schools each traveled to our middle school to cover a few of the fourth grade art classes. I was glad for their collaboration for the inaugural year of Pinwheels for Peace.

Former Memorial School art teacher, Kim Pike
Former Clough Elementary art teacher, Cathy Grimes
Me helping Alex K. with his pinwheel

The making of the pinwheels was easy – we followed the pattern supplied on the Pinwheels for Peace website. We used regular copy paper, pins, and pencils with erasers. Our students each decorated their pinwheel with marker and wrote a message of peace on the flaps that would fold in to form the pinwheel.

Our maintenance man used the athletic field line marker to mark a giant peace sign on the front lawn of the school. Like a giant compass, he anchored a piece of rope in the center, tied it to the field marker and keeping the rope taut, created the circle. He also used rope to fashion the straight lines within the peace sign. Nice job, Mr. Gentili!

I am not sure how we worked out the schedule, but it seems we must have taken every art class outside for a full week in order to provide a chance for every student to add her/his pinwheel. Given that this is New England, of course there was rain and wind at times throughout the week.

 From these photos it looks like we had wonderful weather during the times we were “planting” the pinwheels. If you click on a photo you can view the rest of the images as a slideshow.

This was a fun event that helped build community in our school. We had good support from our administration with this project – you can see them here:

Former Principal William Milligan with the pinwheels
Former Assistant Principal Roseanne Kurposka planting a pinwheel

When we were all finished, someone from the community with a small plane offered to fly over and take pictures of the giant peace sign. Now how cool is that? It was tremendously eye-opening to see the peace sign and our campus from this perspective. (Today this could be well-achieved with a drone)

In today’s world, peace needs to be more than just a word.

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