Visual Arts » 3D

Gunning for a Peaceful Solution

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Indianapolis sculptor and firefighter Ryan Feeney might one day become a reality television star. Feeney and fellow artist Donald Mee have completed the first season of Modern Day Blacksmith, currently being broadcast on WNDY Channel 23. (Catch a quick look or “sizzle” of the show here.) The producers have also filmed two episodes that will be pitched to A&E Australia, home to programs like Ice Road Truckers, Pawn Stars, and Duck Dynasty. If the show is a hit overseas, Feeney and Mee might become American household names like Phil Robertson and his fellow duck call enthusiasts.

Ryan Feeney's Peace Dove currently perches at the Indianapolis Central Library downtown. - PHOTO BY JAMI STALL
  • Photo by Jami Stall
  • Ryan Feeney's Peace Dove currently perches at the Indianapolis Central Library downtown.

The reality show offers just a glimpse at some of the sculptures and metal art that Feeney makes on a regular basis. After graduating from Miami University in 1996 with a B.F.A. in Sculpture and Graphic Design, he started Indy Art Forge. Initially known as Twisted Steel -- also the name, Feeney came to find out, of a Boston-based brass quartet -- his business creates intricate household items, including railings, bar tops and oven hoods. His talent really shines, however, in specialty pieces, including “Hope,” a life-size bronze sculpture of two children playing. The artwork was commissioned by the now-closed Children’s Guardian Home when Feeney was a senior in college. It was an opportunity he almost passed up. A professor convinced him to pursue the project, noting that artists sometimes wait for years to create similar sculptures and get paid. Of the lesson he learned, Feeney says, “Don’t be afraid to get into something, [even if] you’re not sure how you’re going to do it. The Peace Dove started that way.”

The Peace Dove is a recently completed sculpture that was commissioned by Sheriff John Layton, whose goals include making Indianapolis safer for all its citizens, especially with regard to gun violence. The 600-pound sculpture is made up of anywhere from 1200 to 1500 gun parts -- Feeney lost count -- and currently calls Central Library its home. The sheriff was in favor of melting down seized guns, which were weapons that had been used in crimes, sometimes ending in murder, and having Feeney incorporate them in a cast art piece. Feeney, however, preferred to keep the guns in their original form to create a kind of collage. “If you melted them down, [the sculpture] wouldn’t catch your eye the way it does now,” he explains.

Feeney originally created a smaller-scale version of the dove -- also known as a maquette -- that portrayed the dove with one wing aloft and over its body. That design did not work for the finished piece, due to its size and eventual weight. As it is, Feeney had to cut the dove’s beak off to fit the piece in the library’s freight elevator. The sculpture is definitely worth close investigation, especially to see details like the olive branch that was made from a WWII-era Russian rifle with a bayonet. “It was a fun piece to do,” Feeney says.

Countless confiscated firearms comprise Ryan Feeney's Peace Dove, which was created as a memorial for victims of senseless gun violence. - PHOTOS BY JAMI STALL
  • Photos by Jami Stall
  • Countless confiscated firearms comprise Ryan Feeney's Peace Dove, which was created as a memorial for victims of senseless gun violence.

At the same time that Feeney was starting Indy Art Forge, a faith-based group called The Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition was also getting its start. In 1998, then-Mayor Goldsmith contacted the Boston Ten Point Coalition to talk about their success with addressing violence in the community, given Indianapolis’ high homicide rate. As a result, a group of ministers started the local ITPC.

Led in part by Reverend Charles Harrison, ITPC engages persons most likely to be involved in violence as perpetrators or victims. The group’s focus is on youth and young adults between the ages of 14 and 24 and, according to Harrison, “tries to redirect lives.”

“We talk to people about violence. We’re trying to appeal to hearts,” says Harrison.

ITPC refers at-risk individuals to social service agencies that might be able to help them secure jobs or connect with court advocates in the event of legal issues. “It’s pretty intense as far as what we do on the streets,” he adds.

A sculpture Feeney made during college, Hope remains outside the former Children’s Guardian Home. - COURTESY OF RYAN FEENEY
  • Courtesy of Ryan Feeney
  • A sculpture Feeney made during college, Hope remains outside the former Children’s Guardian Home.

Outreach workers affiliated with ITPC go into high-crime neighborhoods on street patrols four nights a week. The neighborhoods have been identified by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department as areas in need of attention. Those “hot spots” are 16th and Tibbs, 29th and Martin Luther King Jr. Street, 34th and Illinois, 38th and Sherman, East New York and Sherman and 42nd and Post. There, the street patrols engage gang members, cliques and drug dealers with the goal of building relationships. Many of the patrollers are ex-offenders who have street cred, Harrison explains.

“[They’re] a one-time part of a problem … they’re trying to clean up what they helped mess up.” Some of the ex-offenders spent years in prison for crimes they committed at a young age, so they can talk from experience to youth on the streets and help them make better decisions about their futures.

“We have a 95 percent success rate at preventing retaliation,” Harrison says. “We do a lot of mediation and conflict resolution.” There might only be two people feuding, he notes, but families, friends and clique members can easily get involved.

“A lot of people could get killed,” he says. But thankfully, ITPC’s efforts are paying off. In 2014, the 46208 zip code -- a primary patrol area -- was the only part of the city that didn’t see an increase in homicides. In fact, homicides saw a 50 percent reduction last year, from 11 in 2013 to six in 2014. As a result, ITPC has been asked to help out in other troublesome areas.

Ryan Feeney founded Indy Art Forge, which operates just west of Binford Boulevard on 65th Street. - COURTESY OF RYAN FEENEY
  • Courtesy of Ryan Feeney
  • Ryan Feeney founded Indy Art Forge, which operates just west of Binford Boulevard on 65th Street.

ITPC advocates for the community and especially ex-offenders by looking at crime as a health epidemic. The group’s focus, Harrison says, is on addressing root causes, such as high unemployment rates, broken families, education struggles and untreated mental health issues.

ITPC actively works to address the proliferation of illegal firearms in the community.

“We see that as a major contributor to the gun violence, particularly in the urban core,” Harrison says. “When I started in 1999, a gang of 12 people might have had two or three guns. Now all 12 people will be armed with pistols and assault weapons. That’s the big difference.”

Part of ITPC’s mission is to help ex-offenders find jobs. If they can’t work, Harrison explains, perhaps due to the stigma from being incarcerated, “they’re going to go back and do what got them in trouble in first place. That’s the challenge in trying to address this issue.”

The sincere hope of many -- in Indianapolis and far beyond -- is an end to gun violence. As it stands, news reports around the world are littered with stories about shootings. The heated debate between antigun advocates and gun enthusiasts rages on. While we work toward the de-escalation of violence here and abroad, at least we can turn to the Peace Dove as a profound and beautiful statement that emerged from weaponry.

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