Finding art to be therapeutic during and after his 20 years in the U.S. Navy, Michael Ragan is encouraging other veterans to express themselves as artists through the 22VA
“Sometimes veterans don’t want to talk about what they went through, but they can get out whatever is in their head through art,” Ragan said.
The third annual 22VA Veteran’s Art Show will kick off with an artist’s reception from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Peoria Public Library’s main art gallery located on the lower level one at 107 NE Monroe. The exhibit will be free and open to the public during regular library hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays through Jan. 26.
Founded by Ragan with veteran Randy Prunty in 2015, 22VA is a group of talented veteran artists that want to help other veterans express themselves through visual and creative arts. The name refers to 22 veteran artists who are involved with the group and also brings awareness to a Department of Veterans Affairs study that showed approximately 22 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide, Ragan said.
“Twenty-two veterans a day committing suicide is ridiculous. I always think about it this way: if 22 college kids caught the Zika virus, the Centers for Disease Control would consider that an epidemic. But 22 veterans die a day, and I don’t see any huge uproar about it. It’s mostly other veterans who are trying to do something about it,” Ragan said.
The group invites veteran artists to participate in the art show by telling them, “You answered the call once already; it’s time to serve again.”
“We want to show other veterans you can express yourself through art and you can be a veteran artist, but you can also help yourself because it can be therapeutic. Just because you’re broken doesn’t mean you can’t be helpful in some way,” Ragan added.
Artwork of all types by those who served in all branches of the U.S. military will be on display. For the first time, the exhibit will also include military memorabilia. “It may not be art a veteran made, but it will be something they were given or something that was made for them or something that was significant to them from their service,” Ragan said.
The exhibit will feature every type of art medium from paintings to sculptures to woodcarvings to collage.
“The sky’s the limit. It’s a very wide variety of expression,” said Trisha Noack, the Peoria Public Library’s public relations manager. Artwork was accepted from any local U.S. veteran who wanted to participate. “Some of them were artists who then went into the service, and some are veterans who are using art as therapy.”
Ragan added, “A lot of veterans will say, ‘I don’t know how to paint.’ But that’s not all it is. Most of my (art) is repurposing found objects. I like to take something that’s broken and make something beautiful out of it.”
One of the participating artists, Stormy Lee Monday of Pekin, said the 22VA group and art exhibit “has touched my heart because I have attempted suicide twice and failed, thank God.”
Monday said he joined the U.S. Army at 17 during the Vietnam War “to serve my country and to find purpose in my life” but was introduced to heroin while in training for combat.
“Unfortunately, I got extremely strung out on heroin. It turned my life upside down,” said Monday, a recovering addict who’s now an artist and inspirational writer.
“I hope the public will come out and see (the art show), and I hope they will reach out and realize there are a lot of veterans out there that have creative skills,” Ragan said. “I’m hoping more so that a lot of other veterans come out and see it and realize help is out there and art can be therapeutic.”
Noack said the Peoria Public Library is dedicated to providing a space to local artists and for public art. “It’s difficult for a small group like this to get a gallery space and to get started. They’re getting bigger and bigger now as they go on, but when you start and you’ve just got this bid idea, the library is the place you can do something like this.”
Ragan said he hopes to see a veterans’ art show at the Peoria Riverfront Museum someday. “I’d like to see the people who go visit the museum come and visit this exhibit (at the library),” he said.
The artist’s reception on Saturday will be a chance for the veteran artists to talk to each other and a chance for the public to ask the artists about their work. Light refreshments will be served.
For more information, visit the 22VA Facebook page at www.facebook.com/22VetArt or call the Peoria Public Library at (309) 497-2000.
—Reasons for producing art as varied as mediums for Peoria area veterans–