Gun Sculpture's Goodwill Message To Be Unveiled At Bushnell Park

A new sculpture will be unveiled in Bushnell Park in Hartford on Wednesday, Sept. 3. The design of the sculpture, made of 2,000 pounds of steel and wood, is two hands shaking.

It's a message of goodwill and peaceful cooperation, a harmonious message, especially when compared to the the steel and wood's original use. They were illegal firearms purchased in gun buyback operations in New Jersey.

"We need to bring attention and awareness to illegal guns, all this madness that is coming out in the country," artist Michael Kalish said in a phone interview from Southern California, where he lives. "I started thinking about the concept about four years ago, but unfortunately it is so much more relevant now."

Kalish's sculpture — to be unveiled at 1 p.m. near the pavilion — was created under the auspices of Raise the Caliber, a national advocacy campaign to end gun violence that was founded by Jessica Mindich. Mindich is a Hartford native, the daughter of Elliott and Eileen Pollack and a 1988 alumnus of Kingswood-Oxford, who now lives in Greenwich.

It will be in the park until the end of the year, then will be taken to Detroit, and afterward to other cities around the country. Kristina Newman-Scott, director of the city's Marketing, Events and Cultural Affairs Office, said Mindich insisted Hartford be the first of the cities to host the sculpture.

"In her mind ... Hartford is the capital city of a little state that was thrust into the situation of comforting the world as it mourned the senseless losses of all the children who lost their lives at Sandy Hook," Newman-Scott said. "The leaders of the state showed enormous courage in those days."

Years ago, Mindich started a business, Jewelry for a Cause, that turns reclaimed guns into jewelry. "I met Cory Booker [the former mayor of Newark, N.J.] and we began this collaboration to use evidentiary guns and shell casings swept from crime scenes by the Newark PD to transform them into a line of jewelry," Mindich said. "He requested that a portion of the proceeds would benefit gun buyback programs in Newark."

Jewelry for a Cause eventually raised enough money to buy back 395 guns in Newark. "This is not about the Second Amendment. This is not a legal issue," Mindich said. "These are illegal guns and they should be off the streets."

The venture expanded to include jewelry pieces made from gun parts seized and bought back in Hartford, Detroit and a city in California. Then Mindich decided she wanted to do more with her jewelry project.

The Caliber Collection of Jewelry for a Cause was launched in 2012, and "16 days later, Sandy Hook happened," Mindich said. "The grieving was just overwhelming."

This led to the creation of Raise the Caliber

"I thought, I may have reached the maximum you can do with jewelry, and there's more that you can do," Mindich said. "I was thinking about bringing people in who want to devote a part of their lives to be a fund-raising tool for Raise the Caliber. As I was exploring this I got a LinkedIn message from Kalish, who said it was a dream of his to create a tribute monument to victims of illegal gun violence."

One of Kalish's collectors heard about Mindich's cause and told Kalish, prompting him to contact Mindich.

The jewelry pieces Mindich creates (visit jewelryforacause.net/our-collections/caliber-collection) do not look like reclaimed gun parts. They look like jewelry, with gun serial numbers and city names etched into them. Kalish creates his artwork with a different philosophy in mind. He wants people to know that the metal used to make guns could be used for something better.

"I don't want to melt them down. I want them to be highly recognizable ... I want people to see them as weapons as apposed to just metal," he said. "There are all kinds of regulations by police departments and municipalities about how to render them inoperable, then they had to be taken apart and welded, but I wanted them to be close to their natural form. ... There were so many different guns, machine guns, automatics, handguns, rifles."

Mindich said no one else was considered for Raise the Caliber's inaugural sculptural project. "After I spent a long afternoon talking to Michael, it was clear there was no one else with whom I would rather partner," she said. "His passion was palpable."

Kalish, 41, a native of Atlanta, constructed the sculpture in about 30 pieces in his studio in Inglewood, Calif. "The frame looks like a gigantic swing set," he said. Kalish will assemble the 30 pieces into one unit this week in the park. When assembled, he said, the sculpture is about 30 feet wide and about 18 feet tall.

"The whole framework is steel. You can only weld similar material, like steel to steel. A lot of the gun parts are plastic and some of them are aluminum," he said. "But some amazing parts of the gun, the handles and butts, are made of wood. Those were bolted into the frame."

Kalish said the sculpture belongs to him. If a buyer can be found, he said, he would sell it. His dealer has appraised it at $850,000. "The sale of the monument will go in part to continuing the travel of the piece, setting up programs as well as funding future gun buybacks," he said.

Kalish said the artwork may grow as it travels.

"It's a work in progress," he said. "We'll be adding pieces in each city it goes to where illegal guns are being taken off the street," he said. "I'm not changing the image. I'm aesthetically adding onto what is already there."

Mindich praised Kalish's ability to turn something frightening into something beautiful. "What comes off the streets, there is no beauty there. These pieces of metal exist for hate. There are beautiful guns out there, pieces of art, but that is not these guns," Mindich said. "In Detroit, I saw a rifle with bayonet attached to it. You put that on a gun for close combat in war. That is a gun on the street."

She visited Kalish in his studio when he was making the sculpture, and she added one additional gun, which she paid to get off the street. "I wrote on the piece of gun "destroyed, never to destroy again," she said.

MICHAEL KALISH'S RECLAIMED GUN SCULPTURE will be unveiled on Sept. 3 at 1 p.m. in Bushnell Park in Hartford. Sculptor Michael Kalish, Raise the Caliber founder Jessica Mindich, Mayor Pedro Segarra, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and poet Donte Clark are scheduled to attend, as well as other lawmakers and filmmaker Michael Klein, who will film Clark's poetry reading for use in a forthcoming documentary. Details: www.jewelryforacause.net.