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REGARDING “MY FATHER, MY CHILDREN, MY WORRY…A MOTHER’S PRAYER (ROSARY)

“My Father, My Children, My Worry……A Mother’s Prayer” is an intensely personal work.  It is a narrative that spans nearly 50 years and concludes with a philosophical statement.  Included among the many handmade elements, formed through the use of traditional metalsmithing techniques, are childhood photos of my four children, a Precious Metal Clay casting of my father’s WWII bombardier medal, a photo of my father in military uniform, and my mother’s Red Cross Nurse’s badge.  Other non-traditional, found object materials include red ruby spheres, mica, the hammer strike ends from rifle casings, and coins - some from the years of my children’s births and one from the year of my father’s.   As artist and narrator, my intent was to link my parents’ generation with that of my children, and to comment upon the devastation and suffering that war has reeked, not only upon those in the heat of battle, but also upon those left to anguish at home.  On the reverse side of the cross element at the bottom, there is a statement, addressing spirituality and war.  

Selection of the rosary format came early in the design process.  I wanted to use a form that would quickly key the viewer into an attitude of serious contemplation and concern.  A rosary can be used not only in the practice of formalized prayer, but also as a solace piece in times of stress and anxiety.  This rosary also tells a story:

I was born shortly before the end of World War ll, often described as our last “popular war”.  My father had enlisted months earlier, but after flying many sorties, had been shot down over the Italian Alps, declared missing in action, and presumed dead.  We would later learn that he had been captured by the German army, marched to one of the prison camps, and brutalized by his captors.   Photos, periodically released by the Associated Press, recorded prison camp conditions at that time. With help from neighbors and friends, my mother, now believing herself to be a single mother of two, and a war widow, continued to serve as a nurse for the Red Cross.  It wasn’t until months after the war’s end that she learned of my father’s true status: he had not perished, eventually had been liberated, and was on his way home.  I can only imagine the joy with which his homecoming was met.   But, as would prove to be the case with so many veterans, during the remainder of his life he would be haunted by memories of his wartime experiences: he would become emotionally volatile and easily startled, prone to outbursts of unexplained anger, and deprived of the kind of rest that only peaceful sleep can provide.  He succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease in the mid 1980’s.

In the early 1960’s, the United States would again become engaged in war.   During the twenty years following World War ll, more than seventy-six million children had been born.  These “baby boomers” had never experienced war first hand, and were among the healthiest and wealthiest generation to date.  We were in our late teens and early twenties, preparing for careers and homes and families of our own.  There had been years of relative peace and prosperity, and we were the first generation to grow up, truly believing that the world would continue to improve.  The new war, the war with Viet Nam, was met with profound rage and dramatic public demonstrations.  Scores of young men claimed exemption from military draft due to religious beliefs.  Many burned their draft cards and moved to Canada, rather than undergo forced servitude in a war they reviled.   Public disobedience occurred with unprecedented frequency.    This was my generation, and we were in turmoil. 

By the early 1990’s, my own children were in their late teens and early twenties.  Three of my children were young men, working to complete college educations and preparing for careers of their own.    On August 7, 1990, the United States launched the Dessert Storm offensive, and yet another war, the Gulf War, became a reality.  Although short lived (the war ended on February 28, 1991), its effect was profound.  My generation of parents agonized over the prospect of yet another protracted war, the possibility of a return to recruitment by draft, and the fear that there would be a lengthy post war recovery.   Having been educated to the horrific effects of herbicides like Agent Orange, and incendiaries like napalm, both used during the War with Viet Nam, we worried about the additional possibility of germ and chemical warfare.  Mostly, we worried about the lives and safety of our children.

The creation of “My Father, My Children, My Worry…A Mother’s Prayer” was both technically challenging and emotionally exhausting.  Hours were spent, pouring through old family photos, newspaper clippings, and the many war time letters that my mother had saved.  I read my parents words of worry and solace to one another.  I examined grainy prison camp photos, secretly taken by the press corps.  I searched through my father’s many medals, and I remembered, from childhood, the piece of flak he had pried from his combat helmet and kept as a desk top souvenir.   I was reminded of the tumultuous days of my own youth: the “sit-ins”, the riots, and the expressions of hatred toward our government.  By the time work began on the final rosary element, the cross, it had been nearly a year since the project’s inception. 

The cross: every rosary ends with a cross.  To Christians, it is a symbol of both suffering and hope.   A mock crown of thorns upon His head, Christ suffered and died, nailed to a cross.   I could not help but see similarities between a torturing crown of thorns and the imprisoning walls of barbed wire.  The cross that I fabricated from sterling silver references these similarities.  The center of the cross contains an image similar to an aerial view of the ground.  It is placed behind a small cross-hatch, as though viewed through a gun sight; its center contains a small disk bead, fashioned from the hammer strike end of a rifle shell and an equally sized sterling disk.  The bead encases a single red ruby sphere, and is similar to the beads used throughout the rosary.  They are intended to symbolize the blood of one/the blood of many.   Small hands secure the center of the cross – war occurs at the hand of mankind – and barbed wire made of sterling silver encircles all.  The reverse side of the cross contains a target image, and words representing this artist’s feelings about war in general: a rosary with a cross – an object of faith - symbolic of all that is holy.  In the case of war, however, everything holy is “missing in action”.  

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