Centenarian Max Barton is living proof that you’re never too old to create art and share it with others.
The 100-year-old Streator resident is one of 11 central Illinois veterans whose artwork will be on display at the second annual Veterans’ Art Show at Illinois Central College this month. Barton, an Army veteran, exhibited his work for the first time at last year’s inaugural show.
“The diversity of our veterans and their creativity is so inspiring,” said Stephanie Van Doren, an art gallery specialist at ICC. “For some it may be the first time to show their creativity to the world beyond their family and friends.”
Barton and other veterans will be on hand to discuss their artwork at a public reception for the artists from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, at the ICC Performing Arts Center Gallery, located in the facility’s lobby. The artwork will be on display at the gallery, located at 1 College Drive in East Peoria, through Nov. 26.
Van Doren said the idea for the show came during a brainstorming session on how to engage the community. “One of our faculty members suggested a veterans’ show, so we decided to give it a try,” she said.
Artists were invited to bring in one piece of their art during specified days in late October. Last year only about five artists submitted artwork, which Van Doren said was disappointing but not surprising since the show was new.
“We actually ended up calling the artists last year and asking them to bring in additional work, which they all did,” Van Doren said. With 11 artists participating this year, each is only displaying one piece of art.
While Van Doren doesn’t know the age range of this year’s artists, she said they ranged in age from late 20s to 99 last year. At 100, Barton will be the oldest artist again this year. U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine branches will be represented.
“Some of them were creative before they went into the service so they have continued to be creative throughout their lives,” Van Doren said. “I think for some of them it is therapeutic.”
Van Doren said she’s hoping the public will be as inspired by the exhibit as she is.
“Of course, we always want to thank our veterans for their service, and exhibiting and viewing their artwork is another way to thank them,” she said. “This is something that’s not part of their service necessarily, but is a part of them.”
Van Doren said the veterans who participated last year were excited to have their work shown.
“They loved how it looked in the gallery space, and they loved the interaction with other veterans who were also creative souls,” she said. “The fun part about last year was the interaction between all the veterans of all different age groups. It was so fun to listen to them sharing stories and talking about themselves at the reception.”
While art is a hobby for some of the veterans, others are educated in it, including Christopher Gauthier, who teaches photography at ICC. At least one veteran artist, Ed Levene of Peoria, studied art in college under the GI Bill.
“I chose to participate in the exhibition to encourage central Illinois veterans to engage with ICC as contributing creative members of our community,” said Gauthier, an Army veteran. “Vets have given a part of their lives in the service of others. The arts are another avenue of service, a creative and life-giving opportunity for us to continue to offer our talent and passion for the betterment of society. At ICC, veterans are supported by administration, faculty and staff to imagine, develop and implement a path toward future success.”
The Veterans’ Art Show features two-dimensional and three-dimensional works, including carved wood duck decoys, mixed media, photography and paintings. Each piece is labeled with the title of the piece, the artist who created it and the military branch they served in.
Van Doren said the show was well-attended last year, and she hopes people will come out again this year to support the veteran artists.
“I would encourage the public to come out to the exhibit out of respect for the veterans and also because it’s really amazing art, pure and simple,” she said.
The public is welcome to attend the artists’ reception. “It’s an opportunity for family members and the public to come and view the work and meet the artists at a casual reception,” Van Doren said.
Gallery hours are 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Fridays. The gallery is also open during public events at the Performing Arts Center. Because ICC is closed during holidays and breaks, Van Doren suggested calling (309) 694-5113 to confirm the gallery is open before visiting during Thanksgiving week.
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