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Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center
Veteran artists show work in ArtWise exhibit
By By Jayna Legg, Public Affairs Specialist
Friday, October 23, 2015As Vietnam Veteran David Watling explains what is pictured in his painting “Wit’s End,” one feeling emerges – pain. Pain and distress is evident on the face of the stark and distorted figure of a woman in the center.
The woman is seated at a kitchen table, her nightgown crumpled with one strap falling off the shoulder. Her messy hair stands on end. Her eyes are sunken and darkly shadowed. A nearly empty bottle of wine or beer can be seen on the table. A baby screams in his high chair, a tiny frowning girl with frazzled braids stands to the woman’s side. The sink is filled with dirty dishes, and there is no food to be seen.
Watling, of Pleasant Prairie, doesn’t mince words as he points out the hidden symbolism in the painting of his daughter, including the date she has circled on a wall calendar to “end it all.”
Watling discussed his painting recently at the Lake County Courthouse, in Waukegan., Ill., where it is one of several pieces he and five other Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center Veteran artists are showing as part of the Waukegan ArtWise 2015 Series “Those Who Serve.” The exhibit in the lobby of the courthouse, as well as several others in the Waukegan area, opened Sept. 11 and will be displayed through Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
“We’ve very excited to have our Veterans show their art in this exhibit,” said Tricia Stewart, Lovell FHCC recreation therapist. Stewart coordinated Lovell FHCC’s participation in the ArtWise 2015 Series. Stewart also organizes the FHCC’s annual Veterans Creative Arts Festival (CAF) in the spring. Several of the Veterans showing pieces at the courthouse have also competed, and placed, in the Creative Arts Festival.
“The Veterans Creative Arts Festival and events like the ArtWise exhibit are important elements of recovery for many Veterans battling PTSD and other mental illnesses,” Stewart said. “They benefit from the chance to express their feelings through the arts and have others see and appreciate what they’ve created, and it gives us, the viewers, a better understanding of their military experience.”
Other Veteran artists showing pieces in the Lovell FHCC’s exhibit at the courthouse include Leticia Knight, Hilton Kaufman, Anthony Stetina, Joshua “RAM” Brown, and Richard Simmons. Simmons served as a Navy air crewman in Vietnam. He has been an outpatient at the former North Chicago Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) and now Lovell FHCC since 2006 and has entered native American-inspired pieces in several past Lovell FHCC arts festivals. He is showing a drum and ceremonial pipes at the courthouse, as well as paintings.
“My paintings that have to do with my military experience are a way for me to express what I did in the service,” Simmons said. “I find that if someone just talks to you to question what you did, it doesn’t mean much. But if I have a painting, and I can explain what is going on in the painting, they can start understanding.”
Watling has four paintings in the show, including two realistic barn paintings his wife favors and “The Watchman,” which he painted in honor of his son, who served in Desert Storm. It depicts a sniper in a desert village scene that could Afghanistan or Iraq.
Watling’s guilt over how his daughter hit rock bottom figures prominently in his “Wit’s End” painting, which won Best of Show at a Lake County Art League competition a few years ago.
“She was having a lot of difficulty,” he said. “She made some bad decisions, and I think it was due to me. I had PTSD. I was raising my kids, had trouble with that divorce, there were a lot of stressors, and I think I wasn’t there like I should have been.”
Painting for Watling is cathartic, and he does it for about two hours every day. He credits his mother with getting him into painting as a child. But after serving in Army aviation in Vietnam, Watling said he “lost all direction” and didn’t paint anymore. It wasn’t until 1994, when he got involved in expressive arts therapy through the VA, that he started painting again. Today, he participates in expressive arts therapy with Dr. John Bair at Lovell FHCC, along with Simmons. Both Simmons and Watling have murals on display in the mental health clinic at Lovell FHCC in North Chicago, Ill.
“I believe in God, and that he pushes you in directions and allows things to come into your life,” Watling said. “I needed help with my thought processes and how I adapt. I learned that at the VA through therapy.”
A bedroom in Watling’s house functions as his studio. “I can go into my room and isolate myself and no one gets hurt,” he said. “I can focus on my painting … It helps me to relax and to process. I can sit there and get lost in the painting, and it helps me to think good thoughts instead of negative ones.”
For more information on the 2016 Lovell Federal Health Care Center Veterans Creative Arts Festival, which is open to Veteran and military patients of Lovell FHCC, contact Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 224-610-3617. For more information on ArtWise and the “Those Who Serve” exhibits, go to http://WaukeganArtWise.com, http://WaukeganArtsCouncil.org, or call 847-920-4ART.