Long-time Operation Supply Drop (OSD) supporter and volunteer Richard Essig reports that that leaving his dog, Anne, behind in Texas was the most difficult part of his recent long distance adventure. Leaving the comforts (and comforters) of home is often difficult for a Veteran with Post Traumatic Stress. However, he reports that the whole experience was a very positive one that left him wanting to do something he’d almost lost the desire to do over the years – to use and share his artistic talents.
The Veteran co-leader of the OSD Dallas Team, Essig learned about the chance to take part in a summer art program from a fellow Veteran. He quickly applied. Essig had a background in art and had been interested in it from a very early age. He had lost a little of the creative aspect of things during his time as a graphic designer. Using his narrative to reignite that spark is just what the CreatiVets program was developed to do.
CreatiVets, a nonprofit that offers therapeutic art experiences for combat Veterans, responded quickly that Essig had been selected for their three-week art program. He and other Veterans grappling with either Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) were being offered access to some of the country’s top art professors in the awe – and art – inspiring setting of The School of the Art Institute (SAIC) in Chicago. There the selected Veterans could explore ceramics, painting and photography as a means of telling their unique stories while expressing their creativity in the process. While this particular program is offered to only a handful of Veterans once per year, CreatiVets also offers Veterans opportunities in Nashville to work alongside premier songwriters.
CreatiVets co-founder and Director of Programming, Richard Casper, is a Marine and combat Veteran himself. Suffering with TBIs and PTS himself after combat in Iraq, Casper experienced firsthand the revolutionary effects that music and art made on him. He began the CreatiVets program to help Veterans like himself, Essig, and thousands of other Veterans dealing with the day-to-day effects of war that remain hidden below the surface.
The sense of safety and community between the Veterans and instructors was readily apparent, Essig said. Sharing beyond the images and pieces that were created was optional, but he found himself willing to discuss things with his fellow Veterans and students that he would not have discussed normally.
The end goal was to create a small body of work to be part of an end of program art show. Casper invited friends, CreatiVets colleagues, Board of Directors members of the National Veterans Art Museum as well as the public to attend the event. The Veteran artists were able to talk about their work and the stories behind it – at their discretion – during the show.
Now that’s back home, Essig says that his time in Chicago made quite the impression on him. He’s glad to be back, but he is also glad to have renewed his interest in photography and digital art. Perhaps more importantly, his willingness to tell his stories through art is a big takeaway. In fact, it’s become a new area of research for him for OSD Dallas Team events. Essig wants to share what he learned with other Veterans who can benefit from the therapeutic combination of imagination and visual story telling.
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