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Sculpture: Sending in angels

Lin Evola-Smidt turns weapons into art – on an increasingly ambitious scale.

By Matthew ShaerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 19, 2008

Lin Evola-Smidt turns weapons into art – on an increasingly ambitious scale.

Stephanie Keith/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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New York

The artist Lin Evola-Smidt lives these days in Manhattan, but she is fond of saying that her sculpting career really began 3,000 miles and a world away. This was back in the early 1990s, when Los Angeles murder rates were among the highest in the country and local authorities struggled to tamp down illegal gun sales. Ms. Evola-Smidt followed the news from her San Francisco home with a growing sense of dread. Her son, Jason, was 8 at the time. What kind of world did he stand to inherit?

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"I'd been an artist since the first time I opened my eyes, but I wanted more at that moment than to just create a piece of art. I wanted people to make a shift within themselves," Evola-Smidt remembers. She is speaking at the offices of her publicity firm, Rubenstein Communications, which sits some 30 floors above midtown Manhattan. It's almost winter, and behind her, outside a row of ceiling-length glass windows, the greenery of Central Park is turning slowly to dun.

With the benefit of hindsight, of course, the whole, grand idea sounds pretty outlandish, even to Evola-Smidt: First, convince a chunk of Los Angeles residents to voluntarily give up their guns. Then melt down the weapons and create art. And not just any art, but statues of angels, which, as Evola-Smidt points out, have historically stood for "the uplifting of humanity." For a few weeks, Evola-Smidt played devil's advocate with herself. "I told myself to get ready," she says. "I thought lots of people would say 'No way.'"

But with the aid of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Evola-Smidt's program slowly took shape, and by the end of the '90s, she had created a small army of metal angels, each standing between one and three feet tall. She attracted press attention, although not without a few hitches – when CNN arrived to film the first weapons melt, the smoke from the guns was so acrid that the network's cameras failed.

She spoke to big-name politicians from around the globe, including former President Bill Clinton, who was the first recipient of a Peace Angel. And she shuttled between coasts and continents, drumming up interest in disarmament. All the while, Evola-Smidt was working off the early designs she'd first conceived in California: a sculpture with traces of both Renaissance and modern influence, familiar in form and unique in metallurgic makeup. The angels have been described as soothing and "serene," although it's the wings that really draw the eye – wide and towering and rumpled by an imaginary wind.

"She was always very passionate about making the angels, both from an arts and cultural standpoint," says Chris McGrath, a manager at Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry. Polich, which is located in Rock Tavern, N.Y., has been involved with the Peace Angel project since 1999; each sculpture is now produced there under Evola-Smidt's guidance.