By BRENNA GRITEMAN
TIFFIN — War is not pretty. But a new collaboration between artists and veterans is creating a beautiful opportunity for all involved.
EVAC (Experiencing Veterans and Artists Collaboration) is the brainchild of three Tiffin University professors who set out to generate empathy for veterans’ experiences while promoting healing for the veterans involved.
Lee Fearnside, associate professor of art and director of Tiffin University’s Diane Kidd Gallery, said about 25 veterans from all branches of the military, with service during World War II through Iraq/Afghanistan, were interviewed by a group of artists. Each of those 22 artists created 10 original prints — one for the veteran, two to exhibit and eight to auction — based on their interpretation of what the veteran had shared. Together, their images make up a traveling exhibit, with excerpts from the interviews displayed alongside the art.
Fearnside said while many of the works that emerged through this project are weighty and dramatic, some depictions are mundane and even humorous. When gathered into one cohesive exhibit, the artwork helps convey the idea that “vets’ experiences are varied and wide,” she said.
She herself interviewed a Vietnam Air Force veteran now living in the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky. Her relief piece, titled “Crash,” tells the story of the airman’s crew responding to a plane that had gone down in the forest. The pilots escaped, but the plane crashed with such force that its tail was buried in the forest floor.
“It just sounded like such a dramatic scene,” Fearnside said, adding she tried to capture the proportion of a massive plane in relation to the individual rescue personnel.
Joseph Van Kerkhove, assistant professor of art and another EVAC founder, also interviewed a veterans’ home resident. His intaglio piece, titled “Demolition Expert, Cu Chi, 10:200,” depicts the story shared by a Vietnam-era Army vet.
Fearnside noted none of the project’s three organizers, also including assistant professor of chemistry John Schupp, are veterans. Many of the service members involved with the project were recruited through personal connections or through personal networking. She said more veterans are being sought to share their stories, especially those from military branches other than the Army, which made up the majority of this round’s subjects.
The exhibit is on display at the university’s Diane Kidd Gallery, where it will remain through November. All pieces are available for purchase, with proceeds being divided among four charities agreed upon by the veterans involved. Charities include Fisher House Foundation, a national charity providing a network of comfort homes for families of veterans receiving medical treatment; Homes for our Troops, a national nonprofit that builds and donates specially adapted custom homes for severely injured veterans; Women in Military Service for America Memorial; and the veterans’ program at Tiffin University.
Efforts to have the EVAC exhibit displayed at the Cleveland airport and the Army Transport Museum at the Fort Eustis Army base in Virginia are in place. Fearnside said organizers are also in talks to display the exhibit in Emporia, Kansas, where Veterans Day was initiated, before it eventually makes its way to the Pentagon.
EVAC founders have also earned the endorsement of a Cleveland VA Medical Center retired head of psychology, who will study the effects of the project on participating veterans. While studies have proven that veterans sharing their stories is crucial to PTSD recovery, Fearnside said the doctor will specifically examine the benefits of the interviewees seeing their story represented visually.
Tiffin University President Lillian Schumacher said she is proud to support a homegrown project proposed from within the university.
“I love when ideas and initiatives come from within,” she said, adding she knows these types of organic projects will be followed through and well supported. “I was just like, ‘Absolutely. Let’s do this.'”
Garden of EVAC: Feasels hosts silent auction Thursday
Twenty-two pieces from the EVAC project will be on loan at Feasels Garden Center during a silent auction and wine tasting benefit from 5-8 p.m. Thursday.
Prints of the artwork will be available for sale through silent auction, with proceeds going to charities of the veterans choice.
A Jeep, a troop carrier and a trunk full of military memorabilia will be on display, and representatives from Flag City Honor Flight will be present to explain the organizations programming.
There is no admission fee. A ticket for samples of five wines costs $10.