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VHP’s Newest Online Exhibit: Veterans and the Arts

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Today, the Veterans History Project (VHP) launches a new online exhibit to feature the stories of veteran artists. The online exhibit acts as a companion to VHP’s Veteran Art Showcase, a series of cultural events held at the Library of Congress from November 5-9, 2019.

Contemporary photo of bearded man in glasses sitting at pottery wheel with pot. Items can be seen in the background on shelves.
Screenshot of oral history video of Judas Recendez in his pottery studio, Fredericksburg, Virginia, 2015. Veterans History Project, Library of Congress, AFC/2001/001/110295.

At first glance, artistic expression might seem an unlikely subject for VHP to explore. But one of the things I love about our archive is just how many different types of stories are represented. Sitting right alongside tales of combat and anecdotes of basic training are the narratives of those who used art to cope with the horrors of war. Indeed, this is not the first time that VHP has highlighted the role of art and artistic expression in the lives of veterans. Our online exhibit The Art of War explored the creative works—ranging from photography to pen-and-ink sketches, cartoons, oil paintings and watercolors—produced by servicemembers during wartime.

In this new feature, we expand the definition of art to encompass more than just the visual arts, to include the stories of veterans who were involved in theater, music, ceramic arts, and even the culinary arts. Unlike our previous exhibit, this new feature focuses on the process of art-making, and more specifically, on the role it plays in veterans’ post-service lives.

For these veterans, their creative pursuits served as a critical bridge between their time in the military and re-entry into the civilian world, providing them not only with a means of communicating their service experiences, but also with professional opportunities as well as a sense of direction and purpose during their transition.

Take, for example, Judas Recendez, an Iraq War veteran who was wounded in 2006 when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). Facing a long convalescence at Walter Reed Medical Center, he began making forays to the ceramics room at the hospital’s art studio. He was mesmerized by the visceral experience of pottery-making, and that point marked the beginning of his eventual career as a professional artist. Although he lost both of his legs below the knee to that IED, he is still able to use a pottery wheel, thanks to a hand-operated pump.

Contemporary photo of woman in flowered dress holding a violin and standing in front of a piano.
Air Force Veteran and Metis fiddler Jamie Fox stands with her instrument. Photo courtesy of Jamie Fox.

Recendez is one of several featured veterans who came to Washington, DC, to take part in Showcase events. Recendez and two other veterans, including William Arthur Ehren Tool, took part in a ceramics demonstration held in VHP’s Information Center and a panel discussion on how their craft has affected their experience as disabled veterans. On Saturday, November 9, featured artist Jamie Fox, a professional fiddler, will perform in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. Visit the Library’s YouTube channel in the coming weeks to view a recording of the concert.

This Veterans Day, take a minute to explore Veterans and the Arts, and think about capturing the story of the veteran (maybe even a veteran artist!) in your life. Visit our website, to find out how. If you are in the DC area this week, please join us for the remaining Veterans Art Showcase events.

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