Local veterans share their stories through art
PRESCOTT - Sharla Peterson grew up learning to sew and make handmade arts and crafts, and she shares her artistic talents with veterans at the Bob Stump VA Medical Center in Prescott. Each year, some of those vets share their talent with the public during the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.
"We try to work on socialization skills," said Peterson, who works with veterans in the hospital's art studio as part of her job as a "psychosocial clinical specialist." "This is the social aspect of mental health."
The free art festival opens to the public Feb. 14-16 at the Theater, Building 15, at the Prescott VA Hospital. Exhibition hours are noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 14, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the 15th, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the 16th. Winners from this exhibition move on to regional and national competitions.
"We had 127 entries last year, and three won first place at the national level," said Paula Moran, recreation therapy supervisor. "They could enter a magnificent piece of work, or it could just be a little model."
Carl Anderson is aiming for something magnificent with his "pixel art."
"I started pixel art last year with an eagle that had 8,000 pieces," said Anderson, who retired from the United States Marine Corps. "This one has 18,000 pieces."
The "pieces" are tiny squares of plastic that Anderson places on panels according to a diagram. He uses longneck tweezers to maneuver the tiny plastic pixels onto tinier plastic pegs. Anderson sends photographs to an online company, which renders a pattern by coding colors to numbers.
"This is a street scene in Bangkok," he explained about his piece called "Bangkok, Thailand, Roofs." "I just looked up and saw all these beautiful angles and lines from the roofs."
Catherine Dillon, working next to Anderson, said his work inspired her to learn pixel art.
"I saw his work, and he does such a fantastic job," said the former Coast Guard service member. "I've tried other art, but it doesn't absorb me like this does. I like larger projects that sustain me."
She is creating a horse scene for the art show because she misses her horses she and her husband have on a ranch in Oklahoma.
"It's nice to communicate with animals," Dillon said. "Once you get to know how a horse feels, it becomes like an extension of your body."
Other entries in the 53 categories include everything from photography to leatherwork, and a special category called, "Military Combat Experience." If any of the Prescott vets make it to the national competition, they will travel to Fayetteville, Ark., in October.
Two national organizations pick up the tab for the vets' trip.
"The American Legion Auxiliary and Help Hospitalized Veterans are the national co-sponsors," Moran said. "And of course the Veterans' Administration helps."
Art is becoming an increasingly important tool to help veterans enrolled in a mental health program, Moran said.
"The VA is bringing in more and more art as therapy, where some traditional therapy doesn't work," she said. "It's important to use art to help them relate to their experiences. It can help them to explain what happened to them."
Dale Haase, a large, burly-looking Marine, specializes in tooling artistic leather saddles, motorcycle saddlebags and other large leather accoutrements. However, after being "prodded" by some of his fellow artist classmates, he discovered he had a hidden talent for making quilts.
He is entering a large Liberty Bell quilt decorated with renderings of the aurora borealis.
"It has color coming out of blackness," Haase said. "It's what a lot of vets go through when they have to do things that they are ordered to do. What you had to do is not your fault.
"This quilt is about coming out of the dark into the light."
For more information about the Prescott VA Hospital's art exhibition, call 717-7402. To read more about the history of the National Veterans Creative Art Festival, visit www.va.gov, and click "Creative Arts Festival" under the Media Room link.