Swords into ploughshares, guns into art

February 27, 2019 | People | Volume 23 Issue 5
Rachel Bergen | Contributing Editor
Irian Sittler-Fast works as a blacksmith in Floradale, Ont. (Photo by Paul Dimock)

Irian Fast-Sittler spends her days hammering hot steel and welding metals together at a forge in Floradale, Ont.

Recently, the 20-year-old blacksmith created a modern-day take on the analogy from the Book of Isaiah of turning swords into ploughshares. Instead, she turned her grandfather’s shotgun into a work of art.

Fast-Sittler with her sculpture, 'Gun Shy.' (Photo by Paul Dimock)

Fast-Sittler created a sculpture she calls “Gun Shy,” which was publicly shown for the first time at her home church, Hawkesville Mennonite, on Feb. 17.

The sculpture is about waist-high and the length of a shotgun. It is made mostly of steel, but features roses made of copper and brass, bringing to the artwork a bit of colour.

For her, making the sculpture brought home some of the pacifist beliefs she was raised with. “I think that making this piece just solidified in my mind what I’ve always thought and believed—that you don’t solve issues by shooting someone. I’ve never been okay with gun violence, and building this piece hasn’t made me an activist or given me any wild ideas but just drove home what I already know and believe,” she says.

She was motivated to make the sculpture when Ron Grimes, a family friend, approached her and asked if she’d be willing to turn guns into tools. She took the idea and made it her own. “The more I got into it, the more motivated I got,” she says. “It was really cool and rewarding to see it come together.”

Although “Gun Shy” will appear in an art gallery later in February, its first public showing was at the church Fast-Sittler grew up in.

'Building this piece... drove home what I already know and believe,' Fast-Sittler says. (Photo by Paul Dimock)

Paul Dyck, the pastor of the church, says that he approached her about creating a special service around the sculpture. 

“When I heard about it, I said, ‘Okay, Irian, we’ve gotta do this,’” he says. “It’s our Prayer for Peace Sunday.”

Together with Grimes, Dyck wrote a litany for the service, which draws on the Prophet Isaiah to refer to Fast-Sittler’s sculpture as an “icon of peace”:

Reader 1: "Let us take a tube of steel built to fire deadly buckshot and slugs of lead, and let us create a sculpture of beauty and life. Let us use the power of wisdom and insight; let us harness the raw, brute strength of wrought iron and the subtle beauty of malleable brass."

Reader 2: "And let us hammer it into flowers; into roses; and let us cut off the firing pin, plug the barrel, and weld the hammer and trigger. Let us twist strong strands of steel into tendrils of peace; and bloom loveliness all over and around, under and through this weapon; and make it an instrument of peace.”

The service also featured a video that Grimes made of Fast-Sittler called “MaidenForge,” a Q&A and short speeches by Fast-Sittler and Grimes.

For Fast-Sittler, showing “Gun Shy” at her home church was like showing it to family. “It was comforting because those people know me and they’re a nice group of people that helped raise me,” she says. “It’s nice to know that I’m able to get up there and tell my story, and they appreciated that. I didn’t have to worry that some critic was going to come up and say they hate it.”

Dyck says the whole church supports Fast-Sittler. “I hope this gives her a lot of encouragement as a young artist. Anything we can do to raise that profile, that’s something we’re happy to do,” he says, adding that he hopes “Gun Shy” will be circulated around the community, especially in Mennonite circles. 

Irian Sittler-Fast works as a blacksmith in Floradale, Ont. (Photo by Paul Dimock)

Sittler-Fast sits by her sculpture, ‘Gun Shy’ at her first public showing at Hawkesville (Ont.) Mennonite Church. (Photo by Elo Wideman)

(Photo by Paul Dimock)

(Photo by Paul Dimock)

(Photo by Paul Dimock)

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This is an excellent piece very nicely presented. Obviously in this country of Canada it can be posted as artistic. I draw your attention to Colorado, the home of the largest military base in the United States. In that place a creative venture is also taking shape, entitled Raw Tools, based on the same scripture (Isaiah 2:4), and sample sculptures being circulated as a protest and peace alternative to the dominant culture of Colorado Springs and neighbouring communities. Responses vary from inspirational opportunities to downright hostility.

Whether appreciated or not, swords into tools is a much needed current message for all peoples.

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