It was a scroll through Instagram one day that made me notice something quite remarkable, something that I wouldn’t usually stop and like but it was quite an incredible piece of art.
It looked immediately like a piece of art that would have been hung in a gallery to cause a viewer to have a raw reaction of mortality and the fear of isolation.
I could barely describe it to the people I was around but when I stopped and looked for a bit it continued to interest me as a piece of art that was quite incredible; and the artist wasn’t a world renowned man, it wasn’t a person you would have seen articles written about in the newspapers or online – it was a veteran and it was part of their “Part of my War Chromatic Series”.
There was more on the website, more imagery of war, more paintings of what these Heroes (as they are called by Vet Arts) saw on their tours of duty and what they came back to deal with. The paintings are stark contrast to the other things that you would see on the website; there is paintings of flowers and scenerys that have been created by these heroes, household items that have been handcrafted with different pieces of artwork on them and even an 1801 era American flag handmade and stained to give a rustic historic style look.
The organisation where all these pieces are featured is Vet Arts and their motto helps you to understand their goal “Buy American, Buy Veteran”. I would have scrolled through their Instagram page for hours just looking at what was there from the art and other creations that had been brought to life by these Heroes to photos that honoured these veterans service to their nation and helped to remind their followers on Instagram what their mission was.
How was the conversation started?
I reached out to the page administrator, interested in telling their story. I sent the first email to them asking about who they were, what their background was and why they started Vet Arts; I wanted to tell their story. The reply I got was more than modest, it was a deflection from the people that started the organisation to the Heroes that they feature and their artwork. David (one of the founders of Vet Arts) told me in the email that he wasn’t trying to tell me how to write this story but thought to start with the Heroes themselves. It was a modest reply; and the best way that I could come to write this story.
So I read through some of the Heroes that were featured on the site and I thought I should start with the Hero that I first encountered whose “Part of My War Chromatic Series” inspired me to talk to Vet Arts.
The Painting that inspired this story
His name is Shawn Augustson.
I will admit I haven’t spoken to him directly but his profile tells you his story and why he produces a lot of his art. He’s a patriot of his country joining the US Army after 9/11 and would go on to be deployed in combat operations in Iraq between 2004 and 2006.
He faced what a lot of veterans faced when they returned how from the horrors of war, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety and Major Depressive Disorder; during his tours he also sustained injuries to his back. It was during a hospital stay that an art therapist encouraged him to use art as a therapy tool to cope with what he was experiencing. He has since described his work as “Post-Traumatic Expression”.
His artwork is amazing, I’ve already told you about the artwork he has done to show what happened overseas during his tour, and his painting are an important visual display of what emotions and imagery go through a persons mind when dealing with what he has. You can only look at his artwork as part of his series and feel nothing but admiration for a man that has suffered the mental cost of war and has built the courage to show that in his art. His other artwork is pieces of flowers that are in complete contrast to his paintings of war but show his true artistic talent.
A Knight of “Red, White and Blue”
Another Hero featured on the site went from jumping out of planes for a living to working for a technology company in New York City; Ian Jennings is another of the heroes that are featured on the site. He’s one of the few that have a photo of him actively serving in what would be a theatre of war. It’s a photo of him with his hand towards god facing a US flag on what I can only presume is one of the many mountains in Afghanistan.
His story began in 1995 when he joined the US Army from a family background of servicemen and women; his mother was an Air Force nurse and his grandfather was in the Navy. It’s a common theme with some, if not most, service men and women around the world having a rich background of family history in the military. He spent his first year and a half learning Arabic but it would ‘t be until years later when he served with USASOC units – 3rd BN, 3rd Special Forces Group, 3rd BN, 1st Special Forces Group, 3rd BN, RHHC, and STB of 75th Ranger Regiment that he would put these skills to use. He said that they were the greatest men on ‘this earth’ and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
His brand that is sold through Vet Arts is Tommy Hawks and he designs his own woodchoppers. They are different to the standard ones you would buy in store; Ian custom makes these woodchoppers and only makes them to order.
Being a veteran who never saw combat, sometimes I feel that I didn’t have the opportunity to do “enough.”
Rebecca “Becky” Lauman designs and builds pieces of art as part of her business that works with Vet Arts called “32 Designs”. Her willingness to serve her country came after 9/11 and like many like her, she signed up to serve her country.
She was training to be a aviation mechanic in the United States Navy and says that she thrived during her basic training. Whilst she was eager to move on and continue her service, she injured her back one day and was moved to an office role which she took as a blessing in disguise.
She learnt how to design things at that role, starting with documents and spreadsheets and eventually worked her way up to maintaining American Legion Post 139 website. She taught herself all the skills she needed not in a classroom but by using Google and Youtube to teach herself how to use applications like Photo Shop.
Becky felt that being a veteran who never saw combat, sometimes she felt that she didn’t have the opportunity to do “enough.” She hoped that she could use her skills to help the veterans that were still “over there” and decided to, after much encouragement from her peers, start her own business.
Her designs don’t include wood or large paintings, but simple and effective designs for business cards, logos and other things that businesses could use to market themselves – all created by a veteran. She has taken a different approach to that of some of her peers on Vet Arts but is working to help others that might consider going down this path.
Vet Arts Goal
Vet Arts works different to other organisations; whilst it works to encourage Veterans with their art, it adds to that by providing them a virtual market place for them to advertise their goods and sell their artwork. David told me that he found that was his biggest motivation to start Vet Arts. He told me that veterans who wanted to sell their art had significant obstacles to selling their artwork with many shying away from it or choosing not to sell. By creating this online market place, David is helping artistic and creative veterans that work with himself and others to better market their products and sell them to the wider community. And when it comes to Vet Arts, the first page you land on spells it out what you’ll always get “Buy Handmade, By Vets”.
How you can support Vet Arts or learn more
You can visit their website at www.vetarts.com or follow them on Facebook and Instagram. The Heroes on the website sell their artwork and various creations.
Special thanks to David from Vet Arts and the Heroes from Vet Arts for inspiring me to write this story.
Over the next two years I will be spending time speaking with a variety of different Veteran Groups around the world and this will be part of the Veterans series for the UK Defence Journal. If you have any suggestions about groups or are actively involved in such groups please let us know.