The 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado weighed heavily on John Karwin's mind as he began his quest to find the history of peace. He was appalled: Nations were defined by their wars.
"Most of history is structured around war, and the history of peace is often neglected," said Karwin, curator of the Fullerton Museum Center. "There wasn't much written for us."
So he took as his task to create a visual history exhibition of peace movements throughout the world in "Artifacts of Vigilance: The Peace Museum."
"To study how peace activism has affected world history hasn't been explored as much in an art museum," Karwin said. "Less understood is how peace effects change."
As the peace show unfolds, Karwin downplays graphic images of violence and war atrocities. Instead, he opts to feature events such as the bombing of Hiroshima through children's drawings, or the Vietnam War through a 1966 Ansel Adams photograph of a UC Berkeley anti-war protest.
The exhibition begins with a timeline from 1915, starting with the first public protest to World War I and Gandhi's message of nonviolent change, to present day.
A hundred items and symbols of peace are on display, including a mock jail cell representing a place protesters often find themselves.
A section is dedicated to leaders who promoted peace: Desmond Tutu, Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa; American social reformer Jane Addams; Anwar Sadat, former president of Egypt; medical missionary Albert Schweitzer; the Dalai Lama; Guatemalan activist Rigoberta Menchu; Elie Wiesel, a writer who oversaw the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust Museum; Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Mother Teresa; and Zlata Filipovic, a girl caught in the breakup of Yugoslavia who wrote a diary about the situation.
Another section highlights six war-torn regions and provides a synopsis of the conflicts, maps, anti-war protest posters from the areas, news articles and photographs.
Half of the objects showcased are on loan from The Peace Museum in Chicago, which inspired Karwin's idea for the show.
Karwin also compiled materials from the California Museum of Photography in Riverside and a collection of anti-war protest posters from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles. Peace activists see a need for more grass-roots efforts against violence.
"For me, peace is still a movement," said LuAnne Venham of Huntington Beach, an activist with the Orange-based Orange County Peace Camp, who sewed and donated a queen-size "Hands for Peace Quilt" made by the Orange County Assn. for the Education of Young Children.
"The idea is for each person to draw their hands and put their message of peace, and when you have all the messages together, it becomes very powerful," Venham, 47, said.
Her quilts have gone to peace projects nationally, including to the families torn by the Columbine shootings, and to the United Nations' International Day of Peace on Sept. 19.
Venham also created a 4-foot, white-painted-wood sculpture shaped like a peace symbol and covered with chicken wire and toys that children chose to discard because they deemed them violent.
Touched by a tragic 1993 incident of a drive-by shooting that killed a 2-year-old boy walking with his parents in Santa Ana, Venham began to participate in community peace marches to protest violence.
Karwin said he hopes the show will at least get viewers to think about human and civil rights, apartheid, poverty, violence and discrimination.
The father of a 3-year-old boy, Karwin wonders what he could contribute to a community in hopes of avoiding school tragedies such as Columbine.
"I realize that young boys are socialized to be more aggressive, encouraged to play with action figures that have fighting roles," Karwin said. "So we're taught at a young age that aggression and violence are a quick way to deal with problems."
Throughout the show, viewers have an opportunity to comment or respond to what they've seen. The exhibition also provides Internet access to Web sites dedicated to local and global peace activism.
Anyone can be a peacemaker, Karwin said.
"Most of the peacemaking efforts around the world have been done at the grass-roots level by individuals," Karwin said, by "people becoming aware they can make a difference over issues they think they have no control over."
"Artifacts of Vigilance: The Peace Museum," Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton. Museum hours: Monday-Tuesday, closed; Wednesday, Friday, Saturday--Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; Thursday, noon to 8 p.m. $3 general. Thursdays, 6 to 8 p.m., $1. Ends April 27. (714) 738-6545.