Swords Into Plowshares

One of the first projects assigned to the advanced ceramics students early this semester was inspired by an upcoming show entitled Swords Into Plowshares, being held at Earlham College in Richmond, Illinois. The show itself is centered around the scripture passage Isaiah 2:4, which reads, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” How incredibly ideal. Amongst all of the destruction and anguish in today’s world, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that negative and violent energies can be channeled into positive and constructive ones, which can be used to better our everyday lives and the lives of other individuals. Personally, this project was the perfect invitation to reflect on not only nonviolence, but also the power of art itself in regards to influencing the social inclinations and intellectual positions of its viewers. If that’s not exceptional, I don’t know what is.

In my moments of reflection, the agricultural imagery from the scripture passage is what seemed to resonate with me the most. Not dwelling on the violence itself, but on the change that can be made to take its place was the most moving aspect of the prompt. I thought about war historically and how in war—pretty universally—the consumption of personal property like farmland and livestock had a dramatic impact on the global community as well as the immediate environment. This also made me think a lot about today’s hunger crisis. We may be lucky enough not to feel the effects directly, but according to the World Bank, the world needs to produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. That’s a pretty huge undertaking, and we as a global community could make some serious headway in resolving this issue if we actively chose to allocate our energies to address this issue.

Perhaps unattainable rather than ideal is the better word to describe solving the hunger problem, but I’m not sure that ignoring it is the best solution either. So with some of the associated images now fixed in my mind, I began the process of creating my piece – a sword of sorts. I decided to use a plaster press mold of a corn cob that I had made last semester in an attempt to create a piece rather quickly, so as to meet the deadline for the call for entries. The shaft of a sword and the length-wise cross sections of the corncobs were similar enough in shape that I substituted the latter for the former. I attached two cross sections together so their edges were butted up against each other, and proceeded to further define each kernel of corn with a thin, plastic carving tool.

In order for the piece to be fired successfully, however, I needed to make some adjustments. For those of you who do not often work with clay and glaze, it is of the utmost importance that glaze does not touch the kiln shelves during a firing. My corncob would not stand up by itself vertically, and I did not want to compromise one half of my piece by not glazing it so it could lay horizontally on the kiln shelves. To solve this problem, I created a small stand with a vertical slab and hole in the bottom of the corncob for it to sit in. A photo might help explain it better:


Similarly, after hand sculpting the hilt, I created a small protruding slab from the top of the hilt to sit inside the cavity of the corncob once I assemble the piece after the glaze firing.

Which brings you up to date! I’m in the process of glazing my “sword of sorts,” and as of late I have been thinking the recesses created in between the kernels of corn also make the perfect area for some iron wash to pool in the hopes of creating some more variation in color on the surface of the piece. I love the rich reds that result from the use of iron in a variety of different ways, and I am anxious to see how the yellow salt glaze I plan to apply over top of the iron wash will interact with it.  As for the hilt, I am struggling to make a decision. What do you guys think? Maybe underglaze, or a deep mahogany brown glaze? Or metallic – gold or silver?  A full length photo of all I have completed might help you figure out your preference:

Sword of Corn

Let me know what you think, and I’ll keep you posted.

Featured Image Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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