Working until 10 each night under hard fluorescent lighting in a warehouse-like studio, a band of Glendale artists is trying to give physical form to the idea of peace.
In their vision, peace is a 92-foot hemisphere of concentric rings, tilted like the Earth, enclosing a terrarium of laurel and olive trees, surrounded by a garden crafted in expanding rings and spirals that radiate to infinity like the wings of a galaxy.
It's an expansive idea. Through the artists' craft, they are rendering it into a scale model of plaster, wood, plastic and even a dab of Bondo, spread across a large plywood table that resembles the platform for an HO railroad.
By a week from Friday, they'll have it neatly condensed into photos and drawings and mounted on three panels measuring 20 by 30 inches each. The panels will be mailed to the National Peace Garden Design Foundation.
The group, assembled by Glendale artist Ron Pekar, is one of 2,000 across the country competing in the National Peace Garden design competition. The winning design will receive a $20,000 prize. More important, it will come to life as the newest addition to the national monuments in Washington.
The National Peace Garden will be built in East Potomac Park, on a peninsula at the juncture of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers about two miles south of the Washington Monument.
Its shape and look have been placed in the hands of the nation's artists in an open contest.
Pekar, who teaches two-dimensional art at Otis/Parsons and visual aesthetics at Cal State Northridge, had prior experience in such contests, having designed the 1 1/2-block sculpture that surrounds a public auditorium built by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Strangely, he learned about this one from one of his students, Daniel Brown, a hair stylist until a stroke partially paralyzed his left side. Brown took up painting as therapy and, with Pekar as his coach, has won several awards.
Brown saw a notice in an art magazine for the peace garden competition.
"Knowing my coach, I thought it could be something he would be interested in," Brown said. "I showed it to him, and here we are."
Pekar, who has produced numerous large public sculptures, was captivated by this one's scale, both in form and theme.
"The concept!" he exclaimed, taking a brief break Tuesday night. "What a great idea! Peace Garden. I really think that's grand."
From a list of questions he and the project's writer-editor, Kathryn Hull, drew up for the contest committee, Pekar learned that they would be allowed to create projections over the Anacostia River but not on the Potomac side.
That generated the image of galactic spirals and rings emanating from an earth-shaped monument. They could continue right into the water.
"Other monuments are confined to their space," Pekar said.
"This one isn't. It goes out and dissipates instead of coming to a complete ending."
It is peace spreading to infinity, also conveniently visible to the politicians flying into National Airport a mile away.
Even such lofty ideas must pass through a stage of dull, mechanical execution.
On Tuesday night, the technical minutiae fell to Glendale landscape architect Brett Kiesel and model builder Henry Darnell, who most recently built Manta-ray submersibles for "The Abyss."
As Pekar, bubbling in a floral shirt and Day-Glo sneakers, coached from the side, Kiesel and Darnell crouched on top of the plywood table, discussing the technique for drafting spirals.
After much discussion, they settled on a plan using compass arcs from three points on a circle with three points on a larger circle as the focus.
They liked it because it was grounded in the mystic harmony of threes and also because it worked.
At the same time, Brown and Hull worked in a nearby room squeezing balls of steel wool around twigs to make trees.
When the form was right, they sprayed each tree with aerosol glue and dipped it in a pan of foam-rubber particles painted green. It was work of back-aching humility.
"You notice what they do, Kathie," Brown said. "They really compliment you, and then you'll do more of it."
"That looks pretty sad," Hull said, examining a tree.
"No, it's great," Brown said.
As the night wore on, Kiesel and Pekar wrestled with handicapped access to the pathways on the 12-foot mounds.
"You can have stairs here, but what you have to do for the handicapped is have a taper here," said Kiesel, pointing to a plaster mound. "But you don't want to do it because it will interfere with the design."
"I'm saying forget people here," he said. "The two functions I want to keep strong are the radiating galaxy forms and the concentric rings."
After sketching several ideas on the Anacostia River, Kiesel figured out a solution.
"Things are just sort of naturally happening," Pekar said. "It's falling together sort of magically."