For a number of men at the Veterans Transition House, art is helping them work through the struggles and challenges born from their military service.
James Reid, Transition House director, said the Veterans in Transition Art Program is a valuable therapy tool that helps the men relax and tap into their creative side.
"Some may be resistant (to it) at first, but after a while the walls break down. They surprise themselves with what they can do," said Fred C. Macedo Jr., support coordinator at the Transition House.
The two year-old program is being done in collaboration with ArtWorks! Partners for the Arts and Community Inc. and is funded through a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant.
One recent afternoon, 15 men gathered to draw, using oil pastels on black paper for an activity called "Darkness into Light," in recognition of the winter solstice.
"Many of the men here have never done art before. I want them to have the experience of using the materials … In seeing that they can do something, they may see something about themselves," said instructor Mary Harman.
Veteran Joseph Simmons studied the Patriots logo on a hat and copied it onto his paper.
"My wife gave me this hat for Christmas. It was so hard to be away from my family (during the holidays), but I needed to deal with some things. I’m getting better now," said Simmons, who, like many of those at the VTH, is struggling with addiction and psychological issues.
"I didn’t want to do the art class at first, but it helps a lot … I miss my wife, Kelly, so much. We were just married last spring and she has been sticking by me through everything," added Simmons somewhat sadly.
Two other veterans, Jeff Theroux and Jimmy Rogers, were quick to jump in to cheer him up by waving their homages to the Celtics and Red Sox, then talking Simmons into posing with them for a group photo.
"I’m 33 days sober and you can put that in the paper. It’s a celebration. I go to AA meetings every day and do some of this art," said Rogers, who made it though the holidays without taking a drink and plans to return to his barber shop a healthier, happier man.
According to Deborah Smook, education and outreach coordinator for ArtWorks!, the Transitioning Veterans Art Program is a terrific example of how the organization is helping diverse members of the community connect with art.
"A lot of people think that you have to be special or different to do art, but really art is for everyone. It is almost our right. You don’t have to be in a special category," Smook said.
ArtWorks! recently hosted an exhibit of the veterans’ work at its Acushnet Avenue gallery. The exhibit, called "I Don’t Have an Artistic Bone in my Body," showed pieces ranging from pencil drawings to sculptures.
A highlight was a 23-tile mosaic that was a collaborative effort of 60 men who worked on it as they transitioned in and out of the house.
Although the focus of the program is art as therapy, rather than profit or recognition, veteran Mark Hamilton has become known in the area for his portraits and has had numerous requests to paint on commission.
"Art has definitely helped my self-esteem. It has occupied a lot of my time and helped me interact with people, which I don’t like to do," Hamilton said. "Some people call the Veterans Transition House the last stop. For me, it has been the best stop." From SouthCoastToday.com