Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ashland Peace Fence: photos, video, and audio

Click here to view a collection of photos of the Ashland Peace Fence.

Here's a link to a few more Peace Fence photos.

And here's a link to the video, also viewable below.

And, for a public radio audio presentation regarding the fence, captured and edited by Kay Stine, click here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Posting Peace

Under the cover of darkness Saturday night, and as a Mother's Day surprise for Ashland, a fence in the railroad district became the temporary home for an art installation entitled "The Peace Fence." The fence itself — which sits on a 20-acre parcel of land owned by the Union Pacific Railroad Company — was installed in 2006 after a decision to postpone clean-up of 58,000 tons of soil contaminated by a rail car repair and maintenance facility sited there for nearly 100 years.

While walking along the fence line recently, Ashland artist Jean Bakewell suddenly saw the fence in a new way — as a potential canvas. She proceeded to put out a call to friends, artists, authors, poets, and organizations, inviting them to submit cloth panels of art that reflected personal hopes and visions regarding peace and the planet. The response was enthusiastic. Within a few weeks, nearly 70 panels were contributed — most by local artists and organizations, and some even coming from California, Washington, and Canada.

DT: What inspired you to use the fence as a canvas for creative expression regarding peace?

Jean: Having been a child of war, I've been a peace activist my entire life, protesting in one way or another. And then I read Sharon Mehdi's book, "The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering," (Viking Penguin 2005). It was so wonderful, so simple. It showed me that just one person can make a difference.

Several weeks ago, walking along the fence line thinking about my brother and his wife who had recently died, I suddenly saw that the fence — which has been so controversial and considered such an eyesore — was actually a gift; I saw that we could use it as a place to creatively express our visions for peace and the well being of the planet. I called my partner Kay and told her about the idea and she said, "You know what, that's one of your better ideas!" Next I shared the idea with friends, and it was a ripple effect from there. I started getting calls and e-mails from people I didn't even know, people wanting to contribute. So many people have helped make it happen, and the panels are just absolutely incredible.

DT: You say that you're a "child of war." Could you explain?

Jean: I was born in May of 1939 in the seaside resort of New Brighton, England. The bombing started in September. New Brighton is located directly across the River Mersey from Liverpool — which was a primary target for the Germans. Our little town just happened to be in their path, and consequently received rather heavy bombing. The first word I said was bomb. "What do the Germans do, Luv?" my mom would ask. "Bomb," I'd answer before running with my doll to the makeshift bomb shelter in the cupboard under the stairs. I was two.

My growing up was neighbors dying, blood in the streets, our roof being blown off, playing on bombed out sites and in burnt out buildings, living with food shortages, collecting wood from wrecked ships to use as fuel, and yet ... to have experienced it all feels like a gift. To have done without, be hungry, cold, make do, share — brought us all together.

DT: You said that you've been a peace activist your entire life, could you elaborate?

Jean: In the late 1970's, after reading the book "Nuclear Madness" by Dr. Helen Caldicott, I got involved in protests at Diablo Canyon, Lawrence Livermore Labs, and the Concord Weapons Station. Then in April 1983 I went to the Peace Camp in Greenham Common, England, where 50,000 women came from all over the world to protest the siting of cruise missiles at the United States Air Force base located there. There was a 14-mile long fence around the base, and we formed a human chain, five people deep in spots, all the way around it. Due in part to our action and the almost 20-year presence of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, the missiles were eventually sent back to the US and the fence came down.

Actually, I also now recall a massive Mother's Day protest at the Mercury, Nevada nuclear test site in the 1980s. (May 12, 1987) The event was attended by Carl Sagan, Daniel Ellsberg, Jessie Jackson ... it was absolutely amazing.

DT: So, you've been involved with fences coming down in the past, and are now choosing to see them as opportunities. As a canvas. What do you envision happening next with the Peace Fence project?

Jean: I would love to see fences everywhere covered with art and poetry. Would love the idea to spread, for people to be inspired to create something similar in their own communities — be it on a public fence or in their back yards. As for the art itself, among several of the ideas we are considering is creating a calendar based on photographs of the panels, and also having the installation travel to other communities.

I believe many forms of protest are needed, and can be effective, but this project is about encouraging people to put their creativity to work; it offers them an opportunity to give voice to their hopes and dreams for humanity.

I'm currently reading Malcom Gladwell's "Tipping Point," and the way I see the tipping point is that you do the work, keep doing it and doing it — in this case, the work is waging peace — and then suddenly there's a massive paradigm shift. And that's where I think we are right now in the global peace movement.

This article, part two of the article published last week, was published by the Ashland Daily Tidings on May 16, 2007.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Little Story, Big Message

Common Dreams published an expanded version of this article on Monday: Saving the World

What follows here, is the article I submitted, which is different, and more accurate, than the two The Tidings published today.

By Debi Smith
For the Tidings

The origin of Mother's Day, as it is celebrated in the United States, has far less to do with cards, chocolates, and flower arrangements than many people realize. There are conflicting accounts regarding who the original inspiration for Mother's Day was, however, three of the women most widely regarded as having influenced the holiday are Julia Ward Howe, Anna Reeves Jarvis, and her daughter--also named Anna.

Julia Ward Howe was an abolitionist, poet, and the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and in 1870--with memories of the Civil War fresh, and thoughts of the Franco-Prussian war heavy on her mind--she wrote in her journal: "As I was revolving these matters in my mind...I was visited by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, 'Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters...?' I had never thought of this before. The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities now appeared to me in a new aspect, and I could think of no better way of expressing my sense of these than that of sending forth an appeal to womanhood throughout the world, which I then and there composed."

Her appeal, which would become known as The Mother's Day Proclamation, reads, in part: "...Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. ...But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard...."

Julia would spend the rest of her days working tirelessly for peace, including suggesting a national festival, "a day which should be called Mother's Day, and be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines."

At around the same time, Anna Reeves Jarvis, living in West Virginia, was organizing clubs to care for the poor, the sick, and the young--calling them "Mothers' Work Day Clubs." When the Civil War ensued she encouraged the clubs to nurse and care for the wounded of both sides, and following the war, organized "Mothers' Friendship Days." Following her death in 1905, her daughter Anna, inspired by her mother's efforts, worked tirelessly for the establishment of a national holiday honoring mothers and service. She succeeded with this mission in 1914 (though would later come to regret it when the holiday became commercialized) when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May, Mother's Day.

Now we come to the Ashlander part--part one--of the Mother's Day story.

One morning, three years ago, local author Sharon Mehdi went to the coffeehouse above Bloomsbury Books to write. She was trying to write a serious non-fiction book about buried scrolls, but having a bad case of writer's block, picked up a newspaper instead. It was all war, violence, and economic woes. Thinking of her new granddaughter, she decided to pen her a little story--The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering; A story for anyone who thinks she can't save the world.

Sharon shared the story with a few friends, "Here's this little story I wrote for my granddaughter, what do you think?" They liked it. One of the friends took it to two United Nations conferences in New York and an International Peace and Reconciliation Conference in South Africa. Another friend took it to Bloomsbury Books asking them to consider offering it for sale. Jeff Golden happened upon the story and invited Sharon to be a guest on his morning radio program. One thing led to another and another, and the story was soon published by Viking Penguin in 2005.

Not long after, in the summer of 2006, a group of women in Ohio were contemplating the state of the world. One of the women, Deborah Ballam--a Professor at Ohio State University, and the Associate Provost for Women's Policy Initiatives--tells the story:

"Over the last year, we encountered women everywhere who were weary about where the world was moving. And more importantly, we found women who were ready to stand up and do something about it. Men as well. And then we came across the origins of Mother's Day--as it is celebrated in the US--in Jean Shinoda Bolen's book, Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World. In it we read Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation, and realized we wanted to do something for this coming Mother's Day, May 13, 2007. What, however, we didn't know. In October 2006, Bolen spoke at Ohio State and we shared our thoughts with her. After listening, she pulled out a little book--the original version of The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering. After reading it, and talking to Jean, we knew what we had to do."

And so was born the Standing Women project. As of this writing, the website,, has registered 2009 events, in 65 nations, for this coming Mother's Day.

When pressed to talk about the effect her small story has had, Sharon says, "I never wrote a book, I wrote a story for my granddaughter. I wanted her to know that one person can make a difference." To emphasize the power of each person doing what they can do, Sharon shares one of her favorite quotes: "I am only one, but I am still one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." Sharon says that if just one person had been missing from the scenario, hadn't done what they could do, the story wouldn't have gone anywhere.

The quote Sharon shares was written by Edward Everett Hale in, "Ten Times One is Ten." Originally published in 1870, it became the inspiration for the Lend-A-Hand clubs that rapidly grew to include 100,000 members. In a preface to the 1917 edition of the book, Hale writes: "I was simply trying, in an 'invented example,' to show to young people the extent and the rapidity by which the effort of one man extends itself in larger and larger circles...but some who read were more ready than I had supposed anyone would be to try the experiment."

Sharon and the women of Ohio--like Howe, Jarvis, and Hale before them--are surprised that some were more ready than either supposed anyone would be, to try the experiment.

One way to celebrate Mother's Day the way it was originally intended, is to join the Mother's Day Stand to Save the World. Locals will be gathering in Lithia Park, May 13, at 1:00 p.m.--joining thousands of others who will be standing around the world.

In part two of the story, we will learn more about local artist Jean Bakewell, and how she was inspired, in part after reading Sharon's story, to create--with the help of other artists, poets, writers, and organizations--"The Peace Fence," an art installation that will be installed this coming weekend as a Mother's Day surprise for Ashland

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

An Artist Dealing with Death

By Debi Smith
For the Ashland Daily Tidings
(Published 5/2/07)

It's fairly certain that it's going to happen to all of us — death. And Marian Spadone — an Ashland artist and owner of A Fine Farewell — is clear that her mission in life is getting us to talk about it, to plan for it better, to reconsider current funeral and burial practices, and to see that by embracing death we can actually excise some of the fear surrounding it — making our eventual transition from life be a much easier, healing, and joyful process to contemplate and do. Talking with Marian, as she enthusiastically explains the alternatives to current practices, makes one almost look forward to the final farewell! In a culture that goes to great lengths trying to distance itself from the one thing that's most certain in life, that's saying a lot.

DT: What inspired your interest in the idea of natural burials?

Marian: I was in England in 2002 and chanced upon a book, "The Natural Death Handbook." What I read resonated so deeply that I began to think about how I could incorporate aspects of what I was learning into my work. Being an artist, and already working with fabric and painting silk, I started designing burial shrouds. My learning about the care of the dead continued, and now, in addition to creating shrouds, my personal mission is to change the way western culture deals with death.

DT: Why do you recommend people reconsider the way our culture deals with death?

Marian: From a purely ecological standpoint, current practices have impacts that need to be considered. Cremation, for example — and I do respect that cremation feels like the right choice for many people — requires a substantial amount of fuel, and raises many air quality concerns. (According to, an estimated 2.5 tons of mercury — just one of the pollutants — was emitted from crematoria nationwide in 2003 — a statistic expected to double over the next two decades as more people, with mercury fillings, choose cremation.) With embalming, something that is not a legal mandate or necessity, bodies are drained of blood and filled with toxic fluids — known carcinogens — gallons of which are then buried in the earth. Then there's the casket itself, often containing non-biodegradable materials, rare hardwoods, plastics, metals, etc.

So you have a body unnecessarily invaded and filled with pollutants, put into a box of questionable materials, and then ... here's the kicker ... put into a concrete or fiberglass burial vault in the ground! What are we trying to preserve? And why? We're certainly not talking good composting here! What I want people to know is that there are much less invasive and toxic alternatives.

From a spiritual standpoint, I think there is a mystery occurring between what we call death and when the body is buried or cremated. Current practices oftentimes invade that space unnecessarily, requiring us to give up our access to the mystery in the process. It's so helpful for families to see and touch, to deeply know that the person is not in there. Being more involved gives us the chance to honor the departing spirit and the vehicle that's housed it, and the opportunity for our own healing and growth.

DT: In your research and observation, in what ways does western culture differ from other cultures around the world in the way death is handled?

Marian: First, we have a hard time talking about it, looking at pictures of it, and admitting that death is a part of the cycle of life that we all participate in. We've made it an enemy — something to try and somehow avoid. But even whilst admitting our fear of it, I've found that we do want to talk about death. We just need permission.

Secondly, we have removed death from the home. Most people die in hospitals or other care facilities. It doesn't occur to us to bring a body home for care and funeral services. Many people don't even know that it's legal in most states for a family to do so. Yet, all over the world, it is done as a matter of course, and was done in this country up until two or three generations ago.

In many non-western cultures, death is much more easily accepted, seen, planned for, engaged with, and even celebrated.

DT: What are some of the alternatives to current practices?

Marion: Natural burials usually involve home care of the body — which can include ritual bathing, dressing, anointing with aromatic oils, etc. Using dry ice, families can choose to keep the body at home for several days. A variety of containers are available for burying the body in; cardboard cremation containers, pine boxes, woven willow, and shrouds are just some examples, and can be purchased or hand made and/or decorated. Families find this to be an especially healing part of the process.

Natural burials are done with biodegradability in mind. Currently in Britain, where traditional cemetery space has become limited and the movement has gained a lot of momentum, land is being set aside as nature preserves and bodies are buried there in natural settings. Instead of a chemically preserved body and highly manufactured container polluting the soil for decades, when left to decompose naturally the body actually feeds the soil and surrounding flora. Here in the US, where the movement is just beginning to grow, work is being done to establish standards for natural burials. Green Burial Parks are opening, focusing on offering alternatives to traditional burials and with an eye toward better land stewardship.

DT: How do you envision people becoming more comfortable and involved with natural burial practices?

Marian: When I started doing this work I invited people to join me in thinking about how we could create something like the Jewish Burial Society for the rest of the non-Jewish community. In that vein, a small group of us formed our own burial society and have been meeting for just over a year, doing lots of emotional work and research together. We're each creating our own "exit plan" and are committed to assisting one another's families at the time of our deaths. We are currently developing a way to share this with the community at large, wanting to act as a resource to local groups and congregations.

DT: Where do you hope to go next with your business, and your desire to make this information more accessible?

Marian: I'd like to assist people in discussing and planning natural burials, and be available as a consultant for home funerals. I would also like to create an entire line of custom designed Alternative Burial Containers and Shrouds and open a small, friendly 'Funeral Shop' for making them accessible to the general public. Can you just imagine someone saying, "I went to Ashland to see the plays, but look what I found while I was there!"

Marian will be giving a Natural Burials talk at the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library — located at 258 A Street — on Tuesday, May 15, from 7-9pm. For questions, or if you'd like to check out her collection of burial shrouds and wrappings, Marian can be reached at To learn more about Natural Burials, a good place to get started is at