What got me started doing Peace Art with students? I’ve always wanted people to get along with one another and have never understood why people would want to fight or cause harm. I grew up with an uncle in Vietnam and saw it on the news as a child. To purposely cause harm or destruction truly baffles me. While at Washington State University, when I went back to get a teaching certificate, I belonged to a lunch group called: Waging Peace. A professor suggested I write some curriculum around the idea of Peace. I regret not doing that, I got caught up in environmental issues instead. Then, as the Vinland Elementary Art Specialist from 2000-2006, I had a theater acquaintance, Mr. Nicholson, ask me to have students do some art work on the theme, “What Peace Means to Me” for a video that he was making. This got me back on the “Peace Train” if I may lovingly quote Cat Stevens.
In 2008 Diane visited Hiroshima, Japan with a group of 19 educators. She wrote of her trip in a piece titled “Pages of Peace, Bear Witness.” Hiroshima had a tremendous impact on her and reinforced her commitment to peace. She said, “Off to the right of the Cenotaph about two hundred feet, I happened upon a lovely water fountain, an inviting place to rest. Mesmerized by the intoxicating smell of the six olive trees that are around it and the sound of splashing water onto rocks, I sit. I look. I observe. I realize I sit in an architectural spiral, a granite wall curves behind the fountain. Spirals represent life everlasting and fertility to me. I fervently write in my journal as tears burst as if to keep up with the water fountain. A bird drinks from the water. I sip my water. I think about water, the cycle of it, how it is dispersed throughout the earth. Eventually, what is rain in my hometown becomes rain in a town in another country as clouds drift and let go of the rain. Maybe peace could be like that.”
In her journal, she wrote: “I experienced it alone because I had to. Tears flowing. I can clearly visualize the death and destruction…it’s no longer a page in a history book. And yet, I am moved to tears really because of the message of peace that is screamed out by every drop of water every whiff of olive air. Olive trees, spiraling peace, water fountain, flow of peace, cleans air from the smell of death…6 trees, water makes it around the whole Earth, why can’t peace?” She realizes then and there that she has to tell the world about the fountain and beauty of Hiroshima.
She says, “Thanks to Mr. Matsushima. As I listened to him talk about his unbridled hope for world peace, I am truly humbled that he holds the bomb responsible for the devastation, not Americans. I have the deepest respect and admiration for his ability to look beyond the hell he witnessed and share with countless groups of people his desire to fight against further bomb building. He is one of those individuals that perhaps know all too well the tremendous difference ONE person can make in the world. I am profoundly changed having met his acquaintance. This experience is significant because it has stirred up my feelings about peace again, and I realize I am now in the perfect place to teach about peace in a creative way since I am an art teacher.”
In November 2018, Diane Stewart and a student Sophia attended a Celebrating Peace luncheon at the Lion’s Club. Sophia won for her Kindness Matters poster and Diane presented the Lion’s Club Peace Poster Liaison with the Curator of Peace 2019 award. While presenting this award, Diane said, “In his effort to bring community into the schools, he gives our students a reason to respond creatively to a prompt every year. More importantly, giving them a voice to discuss the idea of PEACE, the beauty of Peace, the future of Peace and this year the Kindness of Peace. I believe that creating public works of ART that are about peace gives people time to pause for peace, just like Karl does with his effort to make sure our middle schools have a poster contest and for that, I thank you.”