Vets Learn How to Cope by Creating Beautiful Works of Art

Nadene Landry (L) with
Nadene Landry (L), coordinator of the VA’s Open Studio Art Therapy program, with Margaret Klessens and her rendition of VanGogh’s “Poppies” – Courtesy image

 
By Robert M. Cook, Public Affairs Officer at the Bedford VA Medical Center

Margaret Klessens has always known she is pretty “crafty” when it comes to making things like purses for her daughter, but the World War II-era Veteran never knew she could match Van Gogh brush for brush.

In fact, Klessens was so good after she enrolled in the Open Studio Art Therapy program at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital (Bedford VA) last fall that her rendition of Van Gogh’s “Poppies” was chosen for the Bedford VA’s new greeting card, according to Nadene Landry, the program’s Creative Arts Therapist.

Klessens’ painting along with another Van Gogh rendition of “Inspired by a Young Girl in White” and other paintings created by fellow Veterans are currently on display in the Canteen.  Landry said Klessens was “excited” “grateful and humble” after she learned that Bedford VA’s Director Christine Croteau selected “Poppies” for the new greeting card.

“Margaret is probably one of the nicest women I have ever met,” said Landry. “She swims as often as she can.”

Klessens said she was inspired by the poem, “In Flanders Field,” that was written by Lt. Col. John McCrae during World War I. “My mother used to say, ‘Self -praise is no praise.’ But I’m very proud of myself,” Klessens said.

Landry said Klessens joined the Open Studio Art Therapy group in 2014 because she wanted to connect with other Veterans and take up another recreational activity. Klessens worked with one of the graduate Art Therapy students from Lesley University invited to work with Veterans each year.

“She was really surprised that she could paint,” Landry said of the 90 year old Klessens who served in the Army during World War II.

Landry said Klessens also utilized the sessions as therapy along with her fellow Veterans. The Open Studio Art Therapy is one of many programs that Landry oversees to give Veterans opportunities to enjoy several recreational activities  ranging from painting and digital photography to rock climbing and archery.

The Open Art Studio is usually conducted Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings and is attended  by Veterans from the Bedford VA’s long term care program, Domiciliary and the community. The Veterans often surprise themselves when they complete an art project.

Landry describes the main purpose of the Open Art Studio as creating an opportunity for Veterans to come together and to talk about their feelings. The group works on art projects like reproducing Van Gogh’s works of art as part of their therapy.

“I think it’s magic,” said Landry when she sees Veterans experience some healing through the creative process and art therapy. The experience can be especially good for Veterans who tend to be isolated, she said. Getting together with other Veterans to talk and then create works of art that reflect their feelings is very therapeutic, she added.

Veterans who participate build self-esteem and developing coping skills to deal with their respective traumatic issues. She said they often continue their newfound creative outlet long after they finish the program.

Landry understands how Veterans can experience joy and healing through creating art. She is an Army Veteran with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Education and Illustration and a Masters in Mental Health Counseling, specializing in Art Therapy. She enjoys drawing and describes when the artist and the canvass become one during the creative process, “It’s very meditative. You can lose whole hours,” she said.

Landry said she is always looking for ways to expand the program offerings to reach more Veterans. For example, she said she started a pottery group this year and began using the Greenhouse that was previously closed.

Landry said plans are already in place to create a Mosaic in the Building 2 entrance in September.

Klessens’ “Poppies” painting is just one example of the exceptional art that is created by Veterans at the Bedford VA. Landry serves on the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival Committee which recognizes art works created at VA campuses nationwide. Bedford VA has three Veterans who will be represented at the next festival in Raleigh, N.C. in October. Two Veterans have won first place nationally for the vocal rock group and patriotic vocal group awards. Another Veteran’s multi-media video, “She’s a Veteran, Too,” is also a national first place winner in that category.

In addition to the way art helps Veterans cope with issues such as PTSD, Landry believes that it brings Veterans and the hospital community together.

When beautiful pieces of art result from the therapy program, Landry said, they are truly a bonus. “We’re not here to create a beautiful product. We’re here to create a therapeutic process. But if we have a beautiful product at the end, that’s the icing on the cake.”

Landry has seen Veterans accomplish this feat several times since she first started working as an art therapist five years ago. “I’m overwhelmed by the gratitude I feel to be a witness to that.”


Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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