Sunday, March 23, 2008

The peace symbol is 50 years old

Sadly, the peace sign hasn't yet brought us 50 years of peace.

Fifty years ago on a cold, grim Easter holiday, a protest was meant to be a watershed: a global call to ban the bomb.

... Gerald Holtom was the artist and textile designer who created it.

A conscientious objector during World War II, he was driven to the nuclear disarmament campaign, he said, by a feeling of despair.

Holtom's daughter Anna Scott, also an artist, remembers the image of her father's despair, in the paintings of Goya.

"He used the Goya painting of the despairing image of the person who was being shot, in Spain - I don't know whether the despair was to do with his personal situation or whether it was to do with the world situation, and sometimes these can be muddled up, can't they?"

Working in his West London studio, Holtom sought to transform that muddled despair into something tidy and neat: a symbol for the campaign for nuclear disarmament, based on the Naval sign language of semaphore.

Michael Randle was there in 1958 when Holtom explained his idea: matching the 'N' for nuclear & a straight up-and-down 'D' for 'Disarmament,' with a circle around it. "That's the symbol, very simple and straightforward," Randle recalled. "It was that explanation coupled with his vision of what the march would be like, his sketch of what the march would be like, that really sold it to us and we said, 'Right, we will adopt that.'"

Not without controversy. It was inevitable that Holtom's simple three lines and a circle would bewilder at least one of the anti-nuclear campaigners.

"He looked at it and he said, 'What on earth were you three thinking about when you adopted that symbol? It doesn't mean a thing and it will never catch on.' Of course, he was thinking of the traditional things of a broken rifle, or a dove or something that would be immediately associated in people's minds with peace, and if you're looking at it now it's impossible to separate it from all the history that has gone on since."
(Flickr pict'r by Jeff Wignall)

1 comment:

jwignall said...

That's a pretty fascinating story Molly and I always wondered about the origin of the peace sign. By the way, no problem with using my photo, but the copyright symbol was cropped out, so just for legality sake: the photo is Copyright 2008 Jeff Wignall. I'm happy to see it used to further the cause of peace :)