I was recently invited to judge an art show for the City of West Fargo. Given my job title, that’s a pretty typical invitation and not usually something I would write about.
But the invitation to judge is where the “typical” starts and ends.
There were 18 submissions, all from West Fargo residents who had served our country. I was the “art” judge, and West Fargo City Commissioner Mark Simmons and Brad Reed, Post Commander of the Arthur W. Jones VFW in West Fargo were the other two judges.
I hope I don’t offend any of the veterans who submitted artwork, but I was not prepared for the level of artistry I judged. There was pencil drawing, acrylic painting, photography, sculpture, metal, glass and woodwork. And many, many pieces were arresting, poignant…and highly artistic. I found myself wanting to skip the judging and simply explore each piece, but that’s not how judging an art competition works.
But the quality was not what actually took my breath away. It was the write-ups about the art that came from the artists. Nearly every one of them wrote about how making art had saved them in some way.
Harry Moshier painted two old-time cowboys out on the prairie standing near an open fire titled “Coffee is On.” He noted, “I have served two tours in Vietnam in 1968-1969 with the 173rd Airborne. As I have gotten older, too many memories have returned and art is an excellent way of doing away with them. It is far better to be thinking about what I am painting and it is a very rewarding experience.”
Tim Sletmoe’s 3-D “Indian Warrior” came with this note, “I was in the Army in the Artillery. When I got off duty, I drew a lot to relax. I now have arthritis in my hands and have found working with clay helps to relax them as well as drawing.”
Thomas Webb painstakingly cleaned up a terribly rusted axe head and titled it “Resilience.” He wrote, “Sometimes, service members and veterans feel like there is no hope after service. This process of restoration on the axe presented here is applicable to the different stages of transition in my life as a Marine Combat Veteran to Civilian.”
These are just three honest and beautiful narratives of what the arts have done for service members.
So, I ask you, in this month of Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving, what more can, should and “must” we do for our returning service men and women to ensure their mental and physical health needs are met?
I am assuming these veterans are not professional artists, but they somehow found their way to the arts as a way of healing.
For the small price of some pencils, paints, canvases, clay, reclaimed wood and rusted equipment, we can help many people, veterans and others, suffering with PTSD, depression, anxiety and more.
Eventually we had to give a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, but for many of these veterans, the healing that came from creating the art was the real win.