I’ve been facilitating the Vets’ Art Studio hosted at the Wausau Vet Center through VSA Wisconsin since December 2018, and I can definitely say it has been a weekly highlight. The class participants represent a variety of branches and eras, from Vietnam to recently discharged. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them, hearing their stories and sharing quite a few laughs.
Some are fighting physical barriers such as arthritis, which pose obvious blockades to creating artwork, but of course those don’t hold them back. In addition to the physical, there are also the mental barriers. The intimidating blank canvas, overcoming learning curves like color mixing, and considering composition. However, the biggest hurdle is walking through the front door.
Not everyone asks for help. That was made painfully clear to me when I visited the Center several years ago asking what I could do for my brother-in-law. I was told, “If he walks through the door the Vet Center can help, but he has to be the one to walk through the door.”
Sadly, my brother-in-law never walked through the door. I can’t even begin to understand what he was going through. Later on he passed away due to complications of alcoholism in July of 2018. His wife told me he wasn’t the same after his tour in Afghanistan. He had just turned 30.
Given this perspective, I have to appreciate what the Vets are doing for one reason and one reason only – they walked through the door. It baffles and pleases me at every class. Things I take for granted, like the strength to get up, get out of bed, and carry on with my day, pose an unimaginable struggle for some Vets.
What’s more is that Central and Northern Wisconsin doesn’t have a lot to offer service members by way of community. Our troops go overseas and experience a true sense of brotherhood, then lose that connection at home. Each one has the others’ back in a way that is difficult to fully understand without the experience. When they return that feeling of camaraderie is gone, and they are often left to operate with a heightened sense of awareness of what they’ve lost and desperately miss.
The Veterans who walk through the door and come to Vets’ Art Studio are creating a community TOGETHER. As we paint, we chat and I ask them questions about their time in the military. They are more than happy to share their thoughts on anything and everything – service or life in general. It lifts everyone’s spirits and helps us carry on, all over the creation of therapeutic art.
A SELECTION OF ARTWORK AT VET’S ART STUDIO IN WAUSAU
The table with all our supplies, finished and partway done canvases is an open exhibit at the center and on display for Vets touring the facility. I know of a Veteran that hadn’t been interested in counseling, and the VSA work table inspired and encouraged him to seek support for his experiences in service. The class is slowly but surely gaining in popularity and participants as the artwork stacks up. It is drawing people in.
Please consider helping the Vets who have found the strength to help themselves and walk through the door. WPS Health Solutions has already generously stepped up, pledging $4,000 to support the Vets’ Art Studio in Wausau over the coming year. Their gift will help us keep the program running, but VSA is still seeking funds to make it easier for Vets to attend each week. Because we are in a rural area, some Vets live far away, and we want to be sure that if they don’t have transportation – or reliable transportation – we can still get them through the door.
Donations to the VSA Wisconsin Vets’ Art Studio in Wausau can be made at:
Please click on the red DONATE button, then type in the notes that you would like your funds allocated toward the Vets’ Art Studio in Wausau. VSA will honor and acknowledge your request. Your generosity assists vets in participating in the class and art supplies that keep their community going.
Graphic Designer / Illustrator / VSA Wisconsin Vets’ Art Studio Facilitator
For more information on VSA Wisconsin, click here.