By Raquel DeSouza
Artists from the Vienna Arts Society think art can be a collective act that anybody, even those without crafty experience, can help create and, most importantly, can enjoy the process. With high-quality acrylic paints and 12-inch cardboard puzzle pieces in hand, volunteering artists from the Vienna Arts Society visit veterans at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
VSA chair of public relations Dore’ Skidmore says they wanted to start this partnership because a number of the organization’s artists are experienced with making collaborative art with nonartists. Some members are art therapists, and others, like Shari MacFarlane, have volunteered their time at local churches, schools and shelters. Whether on a wall or on a canvas, these local artists know how to introduce painting in a nonthreatening way to nonartists. They decided that puzzle pieces seemed like the ideal blank slate for the hospital veterans.
“There’s a lot of ways you can put them together. That way your own piece is not going to be framed and hung as an artwork; it’s going to be a part of a bigger picture. It just seemed to work really well that way,” Skidmore says.
The VSA started this partnership in May and June of last year with three participating artists, including Skidmore and MacFarlane. Some of them combined the 18 puzzle pieces, made by 14 veterans and four hospital staff members who are also soldiers, into an abstract installation called the “Healing Wall.”
The VSA decided to make the “Healing Wall” into an annual project. This year, six artists participated, and about a dozen more are interested in joining, according to Skidmore.
MacFarlane approaches teaching the veterans to paint the same way she puts color from paintbrush to canvas: with no pressure on what the final product will be, just simply enjoying using the materials.
“It makes us more human,” she says. “The arts bring out our humanity.”
It is important to her that the veterans get to use the best quality paint for the puzzle pieces to have a “brilliant, vibrant look.” She was disappointed with the chalky finish of the donated and inexpensive paints they initially used, so she then chose to bring her personal supply.
Volunteering at Fort Belvoir was an intimate experience for her because her father was a World War II veteran.
“I knew, not firsthand, but I knew how difficult the road that these soldiers are on, how difficult it is,” MacFarlane says. “But I knew that I could share what I loved with them … It’s a natural thing for me.”
The second “Healing Wall” was assembled at the Vienna Arts Center at the end of June and a reception will be held on July 11. The event will also have a silent auction of the exhibit titled “Puzzled Again?,” which has puzzle pieces donated from VSA members. Both Skidmore and MacFarlane plan on painting pieces for the auction.
“Puzzled Again?” and Healing Wall Reception
115 Pleasant St. NW, Vienna, VA 22180
July 11, 4-6 p.m.