Marching on and moving forward. That’s what Art4Vets and much, much more is focusing on with its latest exhibition at CREATE Community Studios in Schenectady.
“Moving On, Moving Forward,” which opens on Friday, features work from 11 local artists and veterans, including landscape paintings, photos, songs and more, all centered around the idea of finding new pathways of healing.
While the works highlighted in the exhibition are layered and vibrant, the stories behind them are just as noteworthy.
The Art4Vets group first formed in 2016 by Penny Lee Deere, a veteran who was looking for art therapy services she couldn’t find at Stratton VA Medical Center. Thus, she and other veterans like Felix Bernardo and Christine Rose Hazuka decided to create those opportunities, by hosting art classes, writing workshops and organizing art therapy sessions with art therapists like Heather Hutchison, the co-owner of CREATE Community Studios.
“Art4Vets means so much to me: comradery with fellow vets and meeting with other vets, learning new things from ideas shared in our group, enjoying a few hours away from the house, [etc.] . . . Going to different functions is difficult for me. I am bashful and anxious [and have] panic attacks in crowds. . . I’m thankful for our group,” Hazuka said.
Over the last few years, the group has grown and has joined with the American Legion Zaloga Post in Albany.
“We are now completely under their umbrella. That is very significant. It helps out financially, morally, [etc.]. They’ll do whatever they can for us,” Deere said.
The group meets at least once a week, usually on Fridays, and hosts programs like Paint it Forward with Niskayuna-based artist Linda Rozell-Shannon.
“Dr. Linda dedicates her time to us; a lot of times we pay for our facilitators but she dedicates her time. It’s kind of like a paint and sip [class],” Deere said.
They also organize writing workshops and even animal therapy sessions. Last summer, several women from the group attended a five-week equine program at Raven Hollow Ranch in Sloansville and they also worked with llamas at Wunsapana Farm in Altamont.
“We’re actually looking to go back out there and build our skills too with spending time with them. What they’ve found is llamas are really good for therapy,” Deere said.
Most recently, though they’ve stretched their artistic side out with song. Last weekend, several members of the group spent time with artists like Mary Gauthier on a SongwritingWith:Soldiers retreat.
“[It’s] really incredible how they draw information out of you and then all of a sudden it becomes a song and it’s usually done in a couple of hours,” Deere said.
SongwritingWith:Soldiers, co-founded by Capital Region-resident Mary Judd, pairs songwriters with veterans to create songs and a healing dialogue about the veteran experience.
During the retreat at the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, veterans from Art4Vets joined together and wrote two songs with artists like Gauthier before breaking off and working one on one with songwriters.
Deere worked with Gauthier and said the experience was incredible and challenging for both of them.
“When I first sat down with her she said, ‘Have you given any thought to what you’d like to write about today?’ I said ‘I write a lot [about] trauma processing. I’ve done a lot of work [with that]. I’d really like to write a happy song.’ She says to me ‘What? Happy songs? I don’t write happy songs. [But] let me give it a try.’ It was one of the things that took her out of her comfort zone, but she was very receptive,” Deere said.
Gauthier also asked Deere to open up about some of the trauma she experienced because of her experiences in the military.
“I believe in love, I believe in poetry . . . My name is Penny Lee and I believe in me,” Gauthier sings in the resulting song, called “I Believe in Me.”
That song will be available to download online via the SongwritingWith:Soldiers website and that song, along with the group songs, will be included in the exhibition at CREATE Community Studios in Schenectady.
A vibrant landscape featuring a sun setting behind a tangled forest of trees, painted by veteran Sandy Arnold, will also be in the show, as will a piece featuring a delicate monarch butterfly by Christine Rose Hazuka.
Much of the work featured was begun in Art4Vets meetings or workshops and completed at home, like “Ice” by Denise
Meyers. The artist took an antique box and inlaid sweeping photos of an icy landscape in it, turning it into something completely new.
Deere also contributed work to the show, including a majestic photo of an owl silhouette looking out over a lake at dusk. Other exhibiting artists are Victor Reiner, Joy Kaye Innace, Felix Bernardo, Christine Rem, Jill Hoffman, Joanne Jazowoski and Pauline Daigneault.
There will be an opening reception from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Friday at CREATE Community Studios in Schenectady (137 State St). “Moving On, Moving Forward” will be on exhibit until Jan. 22.
Several of the artists in the show also have work in “Taking Care,” an exhibition that showcases the role of the caregiver at Empire State College in Saratoga Springs. The exhibit was curated by CREATE Community Studios’ Saratoga location and will up through March 30 at Empire State College’s Student Center.
For more info on Art4Vets email Deere at [email protected] or visit the Facebook group: Arts4vets and much, much more.