SCHENECTADY – For veterans like Penny Lee Deere, the coronavirus pandemic is just another battle.
One that she and those in the group Arts4Vets and much, much more are fighting together.
“It actually opened up things that we wouldn’t normally have been able to go to,” Deere said. “It was a blessing in disguise.”
Artwork from the veteran’s group is featured at Create Community Studios in Schenectady through November. Called “Retreats to Heal,” the exhibition focused on the pandemic and its far-reaching impacts.
In her work titled “Flattening the Curve” Deere combines painting and poetry to reflect on how rapidly news and attitudes about the virus changed. In another work, called “The Way” by an artist who goes by Lite, a heart is seen at the center of a large spoked wheel with the phrase “Love is the Way” written across the top.
There are a variety of mediums and tones in the exhibition, including vibrant landscapes, heavily textured abstract works, and some 3D works.
Traditionally, these artists and veterans gathered together at the Zaloga American Legion Post in Albany for everything from art workshops to music therapy and writing workshops. However, in March, they had to switch to a virtual format.
“We knew that it was so important to still stay connected so people didn’t get depressed . . . and it really opened up some different avenues for us because we had to find a different way of getting together,” Deere said.
They’ve been busier than ever in some ways and have been able to take part in virtual exhibitions, writing workshops and other events that they might not have been able to otherwise.
Some of their work was featured in virtual exhibitions hosted by Uniting US, as well as at Niskayuna Town Hall in an exhibition called “Take Care.” They were also able to have a virtual workshop with Songwriting with Soldiers, working with musician Mary Gauthier and others to pen “Together Alone.”
“It just talks about how it’s just another battle, that in the army this is the way we’re attacking COVID. We’re just going to find another means to get through this obstacle,” Deere said.
Beyond the pandemic, the group also lost Felix Bernardo, one of its founding members this summer. They plan to launch a new website in the coming months dedicated to him.
Through these challenges, dealing with isolation and the stress of the pandemic, Deere said they remained more connected than ever.
“If we haven’t heard from somebody we’d reach out and see what’s going on with them,” Deere said. “It forced us to pay attention.”
They’re hosting a hybrid opening reception at 5:30 p.m. Friday, inviting people to join via Facebook Live. While most members will be tuning in virtually, it gives them a chance to connect and with people in the community.
“I think it’s important for people to see their work. It’s a psychological thing that you’re sharing it with somebody else, it’s just not in your storage unit or in your closet,” Deere said.
“Sometimes you have to retreat in order to get better, to regroup. I personally think that we’ve blossomed through this.”
That sentiment seems to be perfectly summed up in the exhibition’s title work co-created by Deere. The earth-toned multi-media piece features a winding mountainous landscape and a home in the foreground, giving the viewer a sense of tranquility.
“Retreats to Heal” will be up at Create Community Studios (137 State Street, Schenectady) through November. For more information visit Art4Vets and much much more on Facebook or visit Create on Facebook.