Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Savannah VA art class motivates, encourages Vets
Approximately 12 years ago, Savannah VA Clinic Registered Nurse, Dink Weed, began coordination with the Savannah Department of Leisure Services to create a special art therapy group for Veterans.
Today, this therapy group has morphed into an opportunity for Veterans to participate in a creative activity that is Veteran centric and allows each Veteran to participate at their own pace.
Weed currently serves as mentor and advisor to the Savannah Veterans Art Group and liaison with local community resources. Along with John Baker, Peer Support Specialist at the Savannah VA Clinic and local Savannah artist, Kenneth Martin, Veterans are given one-on-one teaching and advice on their art projects.
Martin began volunteering his time and talent to the group in 2011 and had no idea how great of an impact their love of art would have on Veteran patients.
“Every human has a need to express themselves and art allows some to do that,” said Martin. “I hear people say all the time, ‘I cannot draw or paint’ and I tell them that they most certainly can. Everyone can. We must find what motivates and encourages us.”
After a car accident Martin’s physical therapist suggested art to help in his recovery. Art allowed him to transcend any pain and regret. His mindset changed from disability to ability and at 70 years of age, he is still creating. Martin says he has Veterans come up to him weekly thanking him for giving his time to them and he says he thanks them right back.
“I had physical and emotional challenges and I needed to be uplifted. Art was that therapy for me,” said Martin. This is why Martin says he feels a connection with these Veterans who are, like he once was, looking for an outlet in which to calm nerves and meet others who shared these feelings.
Lawrence Brown, Army and National Guard Veteran, has been involved with the art group for almost three years. He and approximately ten other Veterans meet once a week for the art group and enjoy painting and bonding.
“I couldn’t paint a straight line,” said Brown about his artistic abilities before joining the art group. “My cousin had a few pieces of art hanging in a museum and I was impressed. I decided I wanted to be involved in something like that.”
Brown said he doesn’t just paint during the class, but also at home. He says it helps keep his nerves calm.
“I’ve always been in love with sky and water, landscape portraits. That’s my favorite things to paint.”
Weed has coordinated with Harry DeLorne, senior curator of education at the Telfair Museum of Art, to have Veterans of the Savannah VA Clinic display their art creations in the annual “I Have Marks” exhibit that takes place every December. The “I Have Marks” exhibit celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year and opening reception is December 7 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The Veterans also discussed and agreed they want to represent the Charleston VAMC and enter their paintings for consideration in the 2015 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. The date has yet to be determined, but the Veterans art group is excited to be involved.
“The main goal of this group therapy is creative enjoyment and continued social fellowship which promotes wellness, recovery, function, meaning, and quality of life,” said Baker. “To be part of this therapy group and to enter their artwork into exhibits means the world to them."