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putting up exhibit
ECU art faculty members Catherine Billingsley (left) and Jodi Hollnagel-Jubran, have created a “Countdown to Peace” exhibit marking the days until there is peace in Iraq. The project, displayed in November at ECU’s Mendenhall Student Center, will end when the war does, the two said. (Photo by Erica Plouffe Lazure)

Faculty Count Down to Peace with Artwork, Support

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

It has been more than 1,600 days since March 19, 2003, the day the war in Iraq began, and two East Carolina University art faculty members have launched an exhibit that will mark each of those days with an artist’s message and vision of peace.

The sturdy wooden calendars in the gallery at Mendenhall Student Center that hold the “Countdown to Peace” exhibit are filled through May 28, 2003 – 71 days – and Catherine Billingsley and Jodi Hollnagel-Jubran are looking for more than 1600 more pieces of art to complete the exhibit. As the war continues, the number of blank days continues to grow.

“We wanted to measure something, to give people a scope of the whole war, and how long it’s been going on,” said Billingsley, an adjunct professor of textiles at ECU.

“But we also wanted it to be positive in nature and also focus more on the idea of peace, than of war.”

The exhibit was on display at ECU through Nov. 30, featuring artists’ vision of peace. The project will end, said Billingsley and Hollnagel-Jubran, when the war does. Until then, they continue to search for artists willing to submit their artwork – and find a permanent home for the exhibit.

“Right now we need about 1,600 entries,” Hollnagel-Jubran said. “But we need one more every day.” The entry fee is $10 per four-inch by four-inch work, and so far they have received sculpture, paintings, written words and prose. A web site developed by Laurie Godwin enables people from all over the world to view the artwork for each day.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Peter Mugan Schellin, an ordained Buddhist monk and professor emeritus of art education and theory at the University of California at Los Angeles, spoke on campus about peace from the Buddhist perspective. Schellin is also Billingsley’s brother.

While Billingsley and Hollnagel-Jubran were inspired for this project by a visiting artist’s presentation about a collaborative art project, the war in Iraq has also touched them on a personal level. Billingsley’s son-in-law, Steve Bixby, a staff sergeant in the Marines, just completed his fourth tour of duty in the Marines this September.

This past spring, Billingsley organized two book drives with Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh and Barnes & Noble in Greenville for the United Through Reading book project.

“Steve would be videotaped reading aloud stories for Walker (his son). Then the video or DVD is sent home, along with the book,” Billingsley said. “The third time he went there, I wanted to do something to help, because those books go to the families.”

This summer, Quail Ridge collected in a week’s time more than 500 children’s books and $1,500 to be put toward books, all of which were shipped to the Al Asad Airbase in Iraq. “People picked books off the shelves that they remembered reading from their own childhood,” Billingsley said. “It was a very personal experience for people who were at a loss what they could do to help. It was our job to ship them to Iraq.”

Later in the summer, Barnes & Noble in Greenville also collected more than 1,000 books, which Billingsley shipped to the air base.

“There are ten sites on the base,” she said. “Steve became the ‘book man.’” The chaplains on the base help to facilitate the reading program.

“It’s a positive activity and it is a way for the public to show their support of the troops. And thank God they do. You could see how much it meant to my grandson, to watch him read along, to give his father on the television screen a kiss.”

Even though her son-in-law is back in North Carolina, Billingsley’s independent efforts to help soldiers stay connected with their families back home have led to a continuing relationship with United through Reading, as a representative for the service in the Jacksonville area.

Whether through books or through art, Billingsley and Hollnagel-Jubran want to find ways to build positive messages that will call attention to peace in a proactive and positive sense.

“We looked up ‘peace’ in the dictionary, and it was continually defined in the negative: in absence of war or conflict. How can something so positive have a definition so negative?”

“We hope the artwork will be visual statements of peace, instead of having it be defined in the negative,” Hollnagel-Jubran said. “We can’t stop believing that peace is possible. This gives hope that peace is possible.”

For now, their hope and vision will continue to grow, one day at a time.

The exhibit and lecture was sponsored by ECU’s Student Union Visual Arts and Cultural Awareness. Carl Billingsley, Hanna Jubran, Laurie Godwin, Leah Force and Ameena Mohyuddin also collaborated on this project.

For more information, email Billingsley or Hollnagel-Jubran at or, or visit

This page originally appeared in the Dec. 7, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at