Five years ago, Kellogg Community College noticed that a large number of veterans were enrolled in its classes. So it started a writing project to help bring those veterans together.
“We had a lot of veterans that write as a way to express themselves. It’s a natural ability, but it’s also something that helps them kind of process things that are marinating internally,” says T.J. Mohl, a counselor and veteran’s advocate at KCC.
Mohl says the annual Veterans Art Exhibit began three years ago as a way to display these stories. But now you can see everything from painting to welding art.
Bob Psalmonds is a former photography student from KCC, but for this exhibit he’s also displaying the result of his new hobby. It’s a clay mask called “Self Portrait.” He says it mostly looks like him, but he gave it red eyes.
Those eyes symbolize how intimidating he and others in the armed forces can seem to civilians. He served 13 years in the army, and six years in the U.S. Air Force. Psalmonds says his commanding officers taught him to react, not feel. That instinct can be frightening to those who haven’t served.
I remember a police officer walking in my church and saying ‘Well I…when I walked in the door I checked where all the exits were, where most of the people were sitting. I checked this and I checked that.’ Well as an ex-G.I. or somebody that’s been in any kind of a combat situation. I can tell you that when I walk in to a building, I check out where the exits are.
Psalmonds says making art helps him stay calm.
“Art helps me to get some of the frustration, the anger, the tension out of me and into like the clay,” he says.
Paul Edwards was in the military for eight years. First in the army, then the National Guard.
He makes photographs using an 1800’s process called Van Dyke Brown - named after a paint color similar to the brownish tinge it gives the photos. Edwards says it’s the type of photography that replaced tintypes. Needless to say, it’s pretty complicated.
“It’s not a matter of putting a negative in a camera or taking a digital. I make the negatives on glass and then shoot them and print them,” he says.
Edwards' photos might remind you of the old West. There’s a beaver lodge and a portrait of a Native American woman sitting in front of a wigwam. He says he likes the creativity and challenge that comes with making the photos with Van Dyke Brown.
“It goes beyond pushing a button. In any technical…whether it’s in the military to push a button or a digital camera to push a button, it takes away from the hands-on and care it takes to produce the results that you want,” says Edwards.
Where Edwards process is slow, Jerome Washington’s art is lightning fast. Schools and parents pay him to draw five to seven minute sketches of kids.
“And the idea is to promote self-esteem of the children and lift them up,” he says.
Washington is 63 now, but his military service goes back to when he was 19 working on a Navy aircraft carrier. He says he actually joined the Navy so he wouldn’t get drafted to Vietnam.
“I knew my own self that if I had to go over there, I don’t know if I would have come back the same person. And I didn’t want to chance that,” he says.
Washington says now that he’s out of the service, his art is his way of giving back.
“When people see my sketches, they know right away that I’m making an impression on why children are very important and why life is really important,” says Washington.
You can see the Veterans Art Exhibit in the Kellogg Community College library through the end of November.