Published on
the Mail Tribune (Oregon)

Peace Fence

An improvised face lift for a chain-link barrier has led to a shifting display of nonpartisan peace banners

John Darling

ASHLAND, Oregon - In the middle of an abandoned rail yard, on a chain-link fence surrounding a waste site, scores of peace posters have bloomed, the creation of a group of Ashland women who hope their work eventually makes its way to the fence around the White House.

Many of the 75 displays tied to the "peace fence" are scrawled with peace signs, doves and rainbows, and splashed with Vietnam-era slogans like "give peace a chance." Others approach toward art with images of animals, children, mothers and planet Earth. 0522 03

"It's apolitical and seems to appeal to all political persuasions, no mention of candidates or political issues, just positive aspirations for the planet," says Nancy Bardos, one of the organizers.

Bardos' cloth art has Chinese symbols for peace, and reads, "Wars are based on the lies we tell ourselves about what is possible."

The display is the inspiration of Jean Bakewell, who was a child in England during the German bombings of World War II. Her daily trip to her favorite café took her past the 20-acre site, which was fenced off last year while awaiting cleanup of a century of industrial waste.

"I decided this fence of contention needed a face lift, so I called these characters (friends) and we started the display for Mother's Day," says Bakewell.

It is growing with new additions daily, she says, because "things look so black and people feel so helpless. This is a sign of hope. If we can do this, there's a way this can spread across the country and end up on the White House fence."

The group of seven older women are communicating with people in Eugene, Philadelphia and other cities where people are interested in creating their own peace fence. They're planning to make a Web site, contribute panels to displays in other cities and help with a how-to booklet.

"It's profound, very wonderful. I'm really taken aback. There's so much effort put into this," says Jolie Johnson of Talent, an onlooker who learned of the project by word-of-mouth. "We certainly need it."

The panels have grommets on the corners to withstand gusty winds, but several, including a picture of a penguin holding its chick, have disappeared.


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"All the children wanted to have their pictures taken with it, so we think it went to a good home," says Kay Cutter, one of the organizers, who created it. "Still, it would be nice if they bring it back."

The art is scarcely visible from any public place. It's on land owned by the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad, behind a row of businesses on A Street between 4th and 6th streets. People who want to see it have to walk between the buildings and cross the railroad tracks to see the exhibit against the backdrop of Grizzly Peak.

The women say they flash the peace sign at the few train engineers who come through.

CORP officials could not be reached for comment about the display.

"It was sort of a caper we did, like guerilla panel mounters at night, so it would be a surprise on Mother's Day," says Kate Geary, one of the organizers.

Most of the panels are from Ashland residents, but as word of the project spread around the Internet, panels arrived from other states, including one from a school class in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Although the art studiously avoids specific mention of the war in Iraq, organizer Nancy Parker says that conflict must have influenced the artists.

"I'm sure people create these panels with the war in mind and don't want to see it go on forever," she said, "but they also want to see their expressions be positive, not angry."

One dark panel, dominated by somber reds and blacks, has a gloved fist jutting out, holding a red rock and proclaiming the words of Buddha, "Holding anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the one who gets burned."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

Copyright © 2007 Mail Tribune.

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