Exhibition of soldiers’ art a celebration of recovery

For nearly a year, soldiers in the Wounded Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Jackson have created pottery and paintings as participants in Creative Journey, a monthly arts workshop designed to help soldiers recover from health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and brain injuries. Now their works of art will be exhibited at the City of Columbia Art Center’s annual holiday sale on Nov. 23.

Developed by Suzy Shealy, whose son died in Baghdad in 2005, and City of Columbia cultural arts coordinator Brenda Oliver, Creative Journey began in January 2013 and has served approximately 100 soldiers.

“The program is indeed doing what it was designed to do — provide art as a path to healing as part of the recovery process,” said Oliver. “We have seen remarkable growth in many of the soldiers, and we want to celebrate their accomplishments with this exhibition. We encourage the public to come and see what the soldiers have created.”

One soldier who served two tours of duty in Iraq expressed his gratitude in a letter: “I came back (from Iraq) with chronic PTSD. I have been in and out of numerous hospitals since 2007. I am thankful for the people of Creative Journey. I tried working with clay and found it to be therapeutic. For so long it was my job to destroy. Although my battle is ongoing, I truly find a little solitude working with the clay (and) escaping from the war for a moment in time.”

All artists who work with the soldiers are volunteers and receive special training. Each soldier decides whether to participate in the program and which type of art they are interested in. The program is supported by monetary and in-kind donations from local businesses, arts organizations and service clubs.

Creative Journey was recently recognized with a Program of Excellence Award from the South Carolina Recreation and Parks Association. “This is the only arts recovery program in the country for active members of the military that exists as a result of a partnership between city government and the military,” said Oliver, who has big plans for 2014. “Our vision is to expand Creative Journey to veterans in other branches of the armed services.”

The Art Center’s holiday sale takes place Saturday, Nov. 23, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Earlewood Community Center, 1113 Parkside Drive in Columbia. Several artists will sell ceramics, jewelry, paintings, and other items. The soldiers’ work is not for sale, but a silent auction will benefit Creative Journey and help continue the work in 2014. Find out more about the sale on the Art Center’s Facebook page.

For more information about Creative Journey, contact Oliver at bloliver@columbiasc.net or (803) 545-3093.