An Angel’s Angel: Taking Care of Veterans

“…what I want for others is: I want the America I dreamed of as a child, what I was told America was for. It was for anyone and everyone. We were all one people” 

Some Americans are angels. This week P@70 spoke with Sterett-Gittings Kelsey, acknowledged as the world’s leading sculptor of dance. As Fine Art Appraiser and Art Historian Peter Hastings Falk explains, “…if Degas is accepted as the undisputed master painter of dance… then the subject’s undisputed master sculptor is Sterett-Gittings Kelsey.”

This amazing woman recently created The Freedom Angel to take care of America’s veterans. Her approach to that care is as creative as her art. A believer in freedom through discipline, Kelsey is fluent in topics ranging from politics to PTSD, from the psychology behind investment-level fine art, to the partisanship and diversity.

About her sculptures she has said, they “…come from this acquired library of sounds and images, which scrambled themselves in my head, and then [find] their way to my hands. I was determined to try to capture movement in my work and somehow make it sing.”

 “…an innate sense for capturing motion…” in bronze.

“…an innate sense for capturing motion…” in bronze.

Nearly a decade ago Kelsey formed The Freedom Angel Foundation to create a new national image, a unifying emblem dedicated to recognizing our debt to America’s military heroes. Hoping to place a copy of the statue in every state capital, she believes the image could be used both educationally and via licensing agreements with various products to… well... let’s jump into the middle of our conversation with her…

Roxbury, CT: “…the vets have been using charities for generations, but they have never solved the problem of sustainable, adequate funding for those in need. They’re almost always short of money, and needing to beg. So my question to them is, “Why are you depending upon charity when what America does best is capitalism?” That makes much more sense to me. The Freedom Angel Foundation will work because it’s based on capitalism, not charity. When you make a donation, it’s not tax deductible; you’re buying a product you would buy anyway, but you’re also buying health and services for our vets.

…it’s similar to the Paul Newman model. The problem with that program is, as much as we love Paul Newman, the average teenager today doesn’t recognize his image. It’s fading into classic history. It will probably remain some of the very finest of classic films, but it’s not a marketable image… the market is changing. The Freedom Angel is inter-generational. That image isn’t going to change. The Freedom Angel is marketable. No one collects red crosses, or one man carrying another man, but there are unlimited possibilities with angels. Angels can go anywhere.

 Sterett-Gittings Kelsey with “Joy” at her home in Roxbury, CT

Sterett-Gittings Kelsey with “Joy” at her home in Roxbury, CT

And we’ve had seven JAG lawyers declare that she’s a pop-culture image, not a conflict between church and state. That was important. Right now, some veteran charity programs ask people to pay $19 per month on a credit card. The problems with that are first, there’s no accountability.

P@70: I saw yesterday in the news, another one of the major veteran charities has been accused of fraud and misuse of funds.

Sterett: There’s no excuse for that. Today you can push a button and see how the money is being used. $19 dollars a month doesn’t make sense to me. Most people who help the vets are related to the military, because they know what the need is. They’ve been there. They chip in. But the group that is tangentially related to the military is getting smaller and smaller. So these charities, essentially, are ignoring the rest of the country, or the rest of the country is ignoring these charities.

P@70: The percentage of Americans who serve in the military today has decreased to less than 1%. Many of those come from families where the mother or father served. The overall “military community” is now a small, and increasingly more isolated, niche segment of our society; yet it’s that segment which protects all of us.

Sterett: The Freedom Angel offers everyone the ability to chip in painlessly. Here’s how it works. Take the image of the angel, place it on the edge of a roll of paper towels, mark up the cost of that roll one seventh (1/7th) of one cent. Paper towels are all over the country. You can choose to buy those with the angel; choose to be part of the team that gets the job done.

There are unlimited ways that the angel could be used. The 1/7th of a cent is not tax deductible. It’s capitalism. But because everything is computerized, we’ll know exactly how may rolls of paper towels, or cans of paint, or children’s pajamas, are sold. A 1/7th of a cent is a nice alliteration. It could be one half a cent or one quarter of a cent. It would depend upon the product.

P@70 side note: Here’s a sample calculation—Americans use, on average approximately one roll of paper towels each, per week, or 17.5 billion rolls of paper towels per year. The genius of using capitalism to support charities then means: if as little as 10% of the paper towels carried the Freedom Angel image, and from each roll 1/7th of one cent went to the foundation, the foundation would receive over $23.75 million dollars each year just from the sale of paper towels; which it would then in turn distribute to veteran causes. Buying paper towels with this image would be entirely voluntary—it is neither a donation nor a tax. The additional cost to the consumer would be painlessly, yet the amount raised would be significant. The product manufacture might see value-added via increased sales and company goodwill. Sterett uses paper towels as an example, but the angel image could be licensed to go on many and varied products from automobile oil filters to cell phone cases, from sports socks to baseball caps.

Sterett: There are all sorts of different ways to do it, and smarter people than I would have to administer the foundation, but I think it could be successful. One of the problems with veteran charities is their income goes up and down like a roller coaster according to the popularity of the war being fought at the time. But this would be a system that would produce an intergenerational, sustainable source of income. The image isn’t going to fade; she’s going to hang around. That’s why it’s going to work; and all funds are achieved through capitalism instead of someone begging for money.

P@70 side note: Kelsey hopes to eventually have 50 of the 7’ bronze angels made, one for each state, where it would be in a park, or a glade near each state capitol building, and posted with the angel would be our nation’s most important papers.

Sterett: Many people don’t know our Declaration of Independence or our Bill of Rights. So you might have a center where the national image is shined up a bit, and where people might come to learn a bit more… a little PR for our country. And since this is neither democrat nor republican, this might be a way to bring us closer together. My God! We’re far apart, right now.

I think where the leadership of the left is going is absolutely ghastly. Totally appalling. I’d be ashamed to be a democrat. I used to be proud. It once was an inclusive party. It did seek the higher moral ground; did seek to do better and to make the world a safer place for everyone. Now, as near as I can see, on the left, at the very top, it’s a disaster.

P@70: I think there are a lot of people on the left, and on the right, who are not at the extremes and who are uncomfortable, horrified even, with the positions of their leadership. I think people need an avenue to come back toward the center. That’s the way I think about the Peaking At 70 project… the Rediscovering America part of the project. It becomes a venue at which people can make paradigm shifts and reject this flowing current of nasty polarization.

Sterett: It’s a huge problem. It’s infected our schools, our universities. It’s metastasized. It’s a cancer. All three of my grandchildren go to schools where there’s no American flag. It might hurt someone’s feelings! They (the administrators) don’t understand. You need home. People need to have a home. They need to feel this nation is their home. They need to feel a part of it. The schools have altered history in such a way so people don’t know what happened; how we got here.

That isolates people. They’re not making people who come here be part of the community. Same thing is happening to new Muslim refugees. It’s kept them separate. That doesn’t work, guys! We’re all in it together. I don’t care what your background is, we pitch in together. That’s why America has been strong in what we do. But keeping people as victims, or setting them up as victims... If they can keep you as a victim, they can keep you from your education. If they can keep you from a full education, then they can lead you around by the nose. They don’t want you to think independently. They don’t want you to learn English. English is freedom.

In the ‘70s my sister worked with Rosalyn (Carter) toward getting teachers in schools that spoke the languages of people moving here from other lands. The results were that the students didn’t have to learn English, so many didn’t. But English gives one freedom to move around in society, to be socially mobile. Without it, people become locked in place. But the elite want this multi-cultural business which doesn’t work. We’re Americans. We’re one people. We all need a basis in English.

We’re not supposed to be warring factions. Democrats and Republicans are supposed to be responsible for bringing forth ideas, and then the people via elections decide what ideas we should go forth with. They’re not meant to annihilate the other side and become a one-party country. That’s what’s terrifying. I feel that the democrat elite, not the common democrat who is an American, but the extremes of the national leadership… they are vying for one party, trying to ensure it by destroying anyone who opposes them.

They don’t want to hear what anyone else has to say. They don’t want to hear it. They don’t want ideas. They don’t want creative thinking. And it’s the creative thinking and ideas which have made America such a wonderful country. This is why America succeeded. Why do they want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? There are two wings on this bird. A left wing and a right wing. Without both wings, this bird can’t fly.

P@70: If you were to project 25 years into the future, what would you say you want for all Americans?

Sterett: I guess what I want for others is, I want the America I dreamed of as a child, what I was told America was for. It was for anyone and everyone. We were all one people. I’d like to see flags in schools. I’d like all children to know the words of the Pledge of Allegiance; of the Star Spangled Banner; of America the Beautiful. My grandchildren do not know. They’re not taught it at home or in school.

Another major concern in this country is that we don’t have a free press any more. They just want to present their political point of view, and no one else’s point of view. That’s not journalism.

P@70: I agree. At best it’s disinformation by skewing and omission; at worst it propaganda.

 You’ve had an amazing, world-renowned career; over 300 pieces of sculpture; this incredible project to help those who have protected the nation. What’s next?

Sterett: I feel just fine. [At 75 Sterett had a minor stroke from which she has recovered.] I feel healthy in all respects, but I’m often dizzy. It makes you aware that you can blink out at any time. So I want to get as much of the foundation work done as possible, and then get someone else to take it over.

Then I’ve got to figure out what to do with me as the sculptor. That’s a disaster. [... regarding high-end, investment-level art galleries, and the people who run them…] They’re very smart. If a buyer has an opinion of any kind, they know the percentage of sales goes down. When Abstract was introduced the buyer didn’t know what they were buying. So if they could get the buyer to become dependent upon the salesman, and if they had a great salesman who could sell sour milk to a cow, the percentage of sales went up. This was good business. They were interested in risk management. If a buyer bought one of my sculptures and Baryshnikov came in and said, “God, that’s awful, the sculptor doesn’t know what she’s doing,” everybody’s going to know about it overnight. If they screw up on a piece of abstract art, no one gives a damn. Because of this… I’m speaking globally… the purpose of an art gallery, especially at the high-end, is to make money; and the way you make money is not through the art, it’s through the salesman. Consequently there’s not one gallery in the world today that sells a figure until after you’re dead. So normally your gallery would be your business partner. I play in the mud; you do the marketing, sales, etc. But that doesn’t exist. So you’re stuck with doing all of it, and I’ve done all of it for a very long time. Miracle of miracles, I’ve been able to survive on sculpture alone for 50 years, but at this point I can’t go forward unless I have someone else to back me. There are 300 pieces done now. Been busy, but I’m getting tired.

And the foundation, we need to finish that work. The original concept behind the Freedom Angel was to help our vets, and to help our country; to have people thinking again, thinking that we are one people instead of all these various factions.

P@70: I call it a paradigm shift… to get people away from these extreme positions, and to understand that extreme positions are almost always shallow. They have very little depth or breathe. They’re a nugget that someone grabs on to. They expand that nugget, but there’s no real understanding. So the paradigm shift is to come back to the middle, to dig deep into verifiable information, and to use that for building opinions, instead of the craziness of the extremes. If I do it and you do it, it doesn’t mean much, but if I get ten people and you get ten people to make the paradigm shift, and each of those people get ten people, then maybe a movement to bring the country back together begins to grow.