Rosa Parks Museum’s Veterans’ Voices exhibit helps veterans, families discover healing properties of art

The Veterans' Voices exhibit, featuring artwork by local veterans who participated in a 7-week program, opened Thursday at the Rosa Parks Museum.

The Veterans' Voices exhibit, featuring artwork by local veterans who participated in a 7-week program, opened Thursday at the Rosa Parks Museum.

When Sarita Gish’s son was deployed in Iraq in 2005, she looked to her art to help her cope with her worry and concern.

Gish, who says she has been painting for most of her life, poured her heart out onto canvas, producing a the piece “My Son…Let Freedom Ring,” which is a part of the Veterans’ Voices exhibit that opened Thursday night at Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum. The exhibit, which will hang in the museum’s gallery through the first week of January, is the culmination of a seven-week art therapy project open to local veterans.

“Artists have a tendency to get pictures in their heads of paintings and pieces of art, and this is the image that I got in my head,” Gish said. “My neighbor helped me save the newspaper articles that depicted the war in Iraq at the time. I covered the canvas in a collage of the newspaper articles, and then his image is done in oils and the American flag is done in acrylics. It is a mixed media piece. I felt very strongly about doing this while he was deployed over there.”

Dr. Felicia Bell, director of the Rosa Parks Museum, hopes the program will continue to grow.

“We, at the Rosa Parks Museum, recognize those who have served and continue to serve our country as patriots. They risk their lives and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Dr. Bell said. “We wanted to reach out to veterans in the community through this art therapy project in hopes of helping them work through any issues and their experiences as veterans through art in various forms. We really enjoyed this experience and hope to grow the program every year.”

The museum had the help of Montgomery native Mark Montoya, a local artist who has experience in the healing properties that can be experienced through viewing and creating works of art. Montoya worked with the program participants weekly over the last seven weeks, but insists he served only as a starting point for the work displayed in the exhibit.

Sarita Gish stands by her work "My Son...Let Freedom Ring," which is a part of the Veterans' Voices exhibit.
Sarita Gish stands by her work “My Son…Let Freedom Ring,” which is a part of the Veterans’ Voices exhibit.

“I didn’t do a whole lot other than get the people started to create the pieces,” he said. “Everybody kind of had a notion already of what they wanted to do and I tried to facilitate their efforts by showing them some things and giving them some supplies. I tried to give them insight into what folk art is. Folk art is very expressive and each piece is one of a kind. When they came to my studio, I showed them some materials, and once I did, it was all them.”

For some, the Veterans’ Voices project provided a way to deal with difficult times. Jeffery Brasher, a veteran who serves as a volunteer a museum, took part in the project and chose to honor the memory of his niece, who recently passed away, through his painting “Jenny Bug.”

“My niece, Jennifer Rawlinson, had special needs. She passed away this past March, and so this painting is in her memory. It helped me cope with my grief over her loss,” Brasher said.

And, while the experience of creating their own artwork was therapeutic for the artists, it also provides an opportunity to express an experience shared by many.

“My son did come back injured and is now medically disabled,” Gish said. “This piece is very dear to my heart because this is my son who experienced this, but it also represents mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles…everyone that is in the military. It’s not just my son; it’s everybody’s son and daughter who have served. “

The exhibit is free and open to the public and can be viewed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

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