Gun parts become art as part of Alameda County anti-violence program

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Last month, John Colle Rogers picked up a white five-gallon bucket of gun parts that came from an unlikely place--- the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.

Back at Phoenix Iron Works, the century-old Oakland metal foundry where Rogers does his blacksmithing and metal sculpture art work, he unloaded his heavy haul. 

Before Rogers were six pair of .25-caliber decommissioned pistols, four double barrel sawed-off shotguns and three semi-automatic pistol receivers. 

Also before him was an idea for a piece of art—the “Gunnasaurus,” a three- headed, unwieldy creature that Rogers said shows the “cumbersome nature of people’s relationship with gun violence.”

"We've befriended (guns) in such a way that it doesn't allow us to think through the brutal end results,'' Rogers said.

Rogers, 49, is one of six people chosen to participate in the "Art of Peace - Alameda County," a project that challenged local artists to create three dimensional art pieces out of the remains of 700 confiscated firearms that were used in crimes and then dismantled into parts.

“Over the past 30 years, the district attorney's office has amassed over one thousand firearms that were collected as evidence in criminal prosecutions. The time has come to turn these objects of violence into beacons of light,'' said District Attorney Nancy O'Malley in announcing the project.

The DA's office teamed up with the Robby Poblete Foundation for the Art of Peace program.

“(This project) is about transforming something that is potentially destructive and harmful into something that can instruct and educate and inspire,’’ said Pati Poblete, the founder of the non-profit foundation. “The whole point of these (art) pieces is to raise awareness about gun violence in the communities.” 

Poblete started the art project last year in honor of her son Robby Poblete, who was shot to death in Vallejo in 2014 during a robbery. 

 “There was a long period of time that because of grief and PTSD I wasn’t doing anything. I didn’t know what to do. And then came an epiphany where I said, ‘I can either fall down and stay depressed or I can make a change," she said.

Last Friday in Vallejo, the inaugural Art of Peace exhibit opened during the city’s art walk. For that project, artists used parts from firearms that were collected at the Solano County Gun Buyback last August.

Many of the featured artists have been personally impacted by gun violence and the project was their way of honoring their lost loved ones, Poblete said. The exhibit will be at the Temple Art Lofts until June 29, and available for private showings.

Poblete said students will be welcomed as a way for educators to address gun violence and its impact on teens and young adults.

Alameda County plans to unveil its exhibit next week and keep it displayed at a pop-up gallery until a silent auction is held. Money from the auction will go to future programs, said Alameda County District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick. 

A second art project will be held in Solano County later this year. The city of Richmond is also participating in the program.

Poblete said her goal is to see the art project grow county by county, state by state until it reaches across the country.