Delicate Sketches of the Original Peace Symbol to be Exhibited in London

Sketch of nuclear disarmament symbol, by Gerald Holtom. © Commonweal Collection.

Stretching back over a half century, one of the most iconic symbols adopted by the international community has been the peace symbol. Utilized by millions of activists, organizations, and artists across the globe, most people are probably unfamiliar with the design’s unique origins and the meaning behind the multi-pronged symbol.

Artist Gerald Holtom created the symbol for the first Aldermaston March in 1958, part of a series of anti-nuclear weapon demonstrations in the 1950s and 1960s. The symbol was next adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and soon peace groups around the world displayed it in a variety of configurations. But what exactly does it mean?

Holtom designed the peace symbol around the visual language of flag semaphores, a telegraphy method for communicating with flags at a distance, combining the letters “N” and “D” standing for “nuclear” and “disarmament.”

Flag semaphores for the letters “N” and “D” and an overlay. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Holtom’s original 1958 sketches are now in extremely fragile condition and are rarely seen in public. However, a few of them, along with 300 objects from a century of anti-war activist campaigns in the UK, will be on view as part of People Power: Fighting for Peace at the Imperial War Museum in London from March 23 through August 28, 2017. You can read more about the peace symbol’s history over on Hyperallergic.

Hey art and design teachers, here’s a fun project idea: have students create new symbols for ideas important to them using flag semaphores or some other symbolic alphabet as a starting point. Send the results to tips@thisiscolossal.com by March 20, 2017 with the subject ‘Peace Project‘ and we’ll share our favorites here on Colossal.

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