The ancient Greeks believed that the olive branch brought not only food, but deliverance from evil—or that is to say, they believed that the olive branch kept evil away. Since that time (and most likely before), the olive branch or the olive branch in combination with the dove, can be found in all manner of art and design. The incorporation of these images always infers peace.  Not inner peace—if I understand it correctly—but the absence of war.

This imagery also found its way into literature with the “offering of the olive branch.” The item itself has been beloved in the kitchen since first tasted, is the base for creating the best oil you can find to eat (in my humble opinion), can be used for creating cleaning supplies, and is now a popular name for little girls my daughter Maggie’s age. Perhaps that comes from the sweet little exhausting mischievous pig Olivia. And, as you know, we also have an Olivia in our studio.

But I diverge…

The olive branch was the most widely known universal symbol for peace until 1958 when Gerald Holtom first designed the Peace Symbol that we think of today. The symbol was originally intended as a symbol for nuclear disarmament.

What fascinates me is that I can’t think of a single contemporary symbol (that isn’t for a soft drink or business) that has reached the same level of popularity and recognition. Very few designers have reached this sort of universal appeal—even with very long and successful careers. There is as much information about Holtman’s origins for and feelings about the Peace symbol (he later wished for upward pointing arms) as there is negative controversy over its complex history.  Whichever side you fall on the discussion, it can’t be denied that the symbol took on a life of its own after its miraculous beginnings as a cry for nuclear disarmament. Obviously, much thought has gone into this seemingly simple shape.

Since my time in Vienna, and like many people around the globe, it has been my rule to take a day at the end of each year to make resolutions for the next year. I can still hear my friend Sissy over coffee at the Cafe Prückel, her Persian accent with Viennese dialect, “Natalie, you must always make sure you have several tasks on your list that you can strike off the list easily. That way you can take care of two or three early on and feel a great sense of accomplishment. Plan well that you will be able to strike some off in the first month,” she laughs as she draws from her cigarette.

When I started to think of 2013 and what I want for the coming year, I just kept thinking “peace.” (Not something so easy to strike off my list.) And when I think of peace, I think of the peace symbol.  (Full disclosure, my six-year-old daughter has a new pair of pajamas with the peace symbol printed in purple on the front of a white cotton t-shirt–made in Ukraine.  This is not what I think of when I think of peace.)

I most definitely want peace meaning an end to war. But when I watch the news, that seems like something so far out-of-my-control. If I could blink and eradicate war, I would. If I could give my life and eradicate war, I would (with the disclaimer that both my children would live in full-on healthy, happy, glorious peace after I am gone).

But, we all know that neither giving my life nor blinking my eyes will make people stop harming one another.

So, the kind of peace I long for is peace of mind, peace IN my mind, and peace around my life, my home, my business, my neighborhood, in my own body.

While the International Day of Peace is not until Saturday, September 21, 2013, I am trying to start practicing now. Sometimes it is as simple as taking a deep breath before I let slip something bitchy. Some days it is my renewed love of yoga. Some days it is simply a random act of kindness. In honor of peace (and Gerald Holtom), our January Desktop of the Month for starting the New Year is a pattern of peace. May we all find it, live it, love it, and remember it as we move through 2013. You will also see this pattern  on this coming DIY Thursday—and again throughout the year. It is the Alabama Chanin symbol for 2013.

Peace on Earth,

P.S.: Profits from the production of this stencil and artwork throughout the year will be donated to organizations like Peacebuilders, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 12 For Life, and other peace-loving institutions.  Thank you for your support.

P.S.S.: I thought it interesting to note that the original artwork is displayed in the Peace Museum in Bradford, England. There is a Peace Museum?  With all of the war museums, it should have occurred to us much sooner that every city needs a Peace Museum.


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  1. Mary B

    Natalie – I always look forward to your journal posts. This one was no exception. Thank you for the beautiful thoughts as we all embark on the first full week of January. I too crave peace in myself and the world this year. Knowing there are others doing the same makes it so much more powerful. Happy new year!

  2. Nina

    I was taken on CND marches by my parents when I was a little girl, so that symbol always brings back a memory of hundreds of adults lying down on the ground in a central London street, while I watched from my pushchair! I’ve been to a big cinematography museum in Bradford but I didn’t know about the Peace Museum – I’ll look it up when I’m next in Yorkshire, thanks for the tip.

  3. Rebekah

    As the mother of an Olivia (now 9 months old), I confess I hadn’t considered the significance of the olive as a symbol of peace. The presence of an infant in the home does not exactly make for a more peaceful existence in the here and now, but my hope for her as she grows is that she will be a peacemaker. Thank you for a lovely post.

  4. Jo

    Bradford University has a Peace Studies department too! My first job after University was at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, just down the road from Kings College, who has a War Department. Every year the Peace Studies department and the War Studies Department play a football (soccer) game to determine the winner. The prize awarded is the Tolstoy cup 🙂
    The current (and more frequent winner) is the Peace Studies Department!

  5. velma

    i remember moving into a brand new high school building in tenth grade (1970 ish) and with that outrageous building a whole new curriculum. my choice for social studies: peace studies. i wish i knew about peace pilgrim then, but npr featured her again just recently.

  6. Julie B

    Every week our church sings a song for peace, one line being, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” You’ve got to start somewhere 🙂

  7. Denise Toepel

    I too feel as you do, with the same disclaimers! We are activists and try hard not to be disheartened by the apathy we encounter. I think another round of peace as a symbol is a great idea, thank you again, have a productive famously Chanin year.