On Halloween 2015, my neighbor Noah, armed with an assault rifle, shot and killed an unarmed cyclist and Iraq War vet on my street just a couple of houses down from my home, then proceeding to kill two women a couple of blocks away before being shot by police in the parking lot of a Wendy's. My husband and I were lucky enough that day to be traveling with friends—a rare weekend excursion for two busy artists with day jobs. Our cat sitter arrived an hour after the shooting to find the street barricaded. My elementary-school-age neighbor across the street was a witness to the police crime scene—the body of the first victim was covered and left on the street for an uncomfortably long time for forensics. Our other neighbor two doors down, who called 911, had been told by the dispatcher that the man was within his rights to be carrying a gasoline can and an assault rifle, until he started killing people.
I might have been there gardening. My husband could have been walking in to the studio. I'd spent most of the summer weeding and digging new garden beds and had often overheard the shooter fighting with his girlfriend.
Our friend, Mia Alvarado, our neighbor a few blocks away, wrote an essay about her experience of that day, positioning it in a history of gun violence and gun control in the US. My husband, Aaron Cohick, who is a letterpress printer and maker of artist books, decided after the Boulder King Soopers shooting to re-publish Mia's essay "American Weather" as a chapbook, and he asked me to illustrate it.
American Weather was originally published in VQR: American Weather.
I struggled, as I wanted to avoid depicting imagery that could in any way idealize guns as objects. I want to avenge the violence, defame the object, subject it to a similar destruction as the human lives, my neighbors. But I know that revenge is a counterproductive impulse.
In a conversation with Mia about my Artist's Block, she and I arrived at the same idea simultaneously—to reach out to Michael Martin of RawTools who literally turns swords into plowshares, guns into garden tools, and helps folks in the community whose lives have been impacted by gun violence. Offering gun buybacks and de-escalation training in the Colorado Springs and Denver area, RawTools gives people real opportunities for healing—using blacksmithing as art therapy and offering classes in de-escalation.
This series of illustrations on ceramic depicts the destroyed gun parts in RAWtools' shop. The images and objects are rough, inglorious, and border on ugly—denying their objecthood and further distorting the gun parts they depict. As the series of painting continues I will transition to painting the product of RAWtools' labors: garden tools—useful for the cultivation of hope, healing, and food in our garden.
About the Artist
Corie J. Cole is a library specialist by day and an artist at night. Originally from Louisville, KY she started her studies as a Biology and Art double major, aiming to purse a career in medical illustration, but fell in love with ceramics and earned an MFA from Arizona State University. She shows her art nationally, and her work can be found in private and public collections across the country. Her work, 36 Shots of Pikes Peak, is currently on display at in the Art of the Southwest Exhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center.