by Jack Howland, courtesy of The Poughkeepsie Journal
When he got to the black-and-white snapshot of himself standing aboard a U.S. Navy vessel, veteran Louis Jawitz smiled and said his hair wasn’t quite that full today.
Going through a slideshow for a crowd in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library (PA), Jawitz commented on personal photos that told the story of his years in the Navy. The images were for the most part simple, depicting life in service — soaring jets, faded hats, men in uniform.
One of his favorite photos, though, showed what life is like for many who come back from war. In it, a homeless man sleeps in a truck, an American flag draped around his torso. “He was a veteran from the Korean War, and he had to live like that,” Jawitz said Saturday afternoon. “And today, they’re on the streets."
The bold image was the first work greeting attendees of the fourth annual Veteran Arts Showcase. The work — all done by veterans — embraced a wide range of themes, some related to the military and others not. There were diverse styles on display, too, from painting to sculpture to woodworking.
Lori Areloa, co-chair of the Veteran Arts Showcase planning committee, said the exhibit has become so well-known that artists are now coming to her instead of the other way around. “There is just such a great need for it,” she said.
Four years ago, she and a few friends started the showcase as a creative and therapeutic outlet for veterans suffering from PTSD. Specifically, they were responding to a World War II veteran with depression who had said his artwork was keeping him going.
Since then, the event has become an annual celebration of veterans and their talents, while also helping some heal. “What really changes people’s symptoms with PTSD is mind-body stuff,” she said. “This is a powerful therapy, and it doesn’t involve drugs.”
Artist Christine Mikolajczak, who worked in the Pentagon during the Cold War of the 1980’s, said she has dealt with PTSD since she retired 25 years ago. The often-crippling mental and physical pain is kept at bay when she paints.
Sometimes using a brush, other times a knife, she likes to sit down with a canvas. She likes to paint cabins, vases and abstract patterns. She likes that, for a moment, it makes her feel calm. “It helps me mentally; it helps me physically,” she said. “It helps me get through every day.”