MATTHEWS – People around the world have many different definitions of “being free,” but Eileen Schwartz believes her definition of freedom wouldn’t be possible without the sacrifice of United States service members.
Schwartz heads up the Art for Veterans classes at the McDowell Arts Center. Supported by the nonprofit Flags Across the Nation, the classes are free to any veterans who wish to participate. Students from her most recent five-week session will have the chance to show off their artwork in the exhibit “Freedom,” which will debut Sunday, June 8, at the center, located at 123 McDowell St. The show will run through July 3.
“It’s a good time for the show because it’s between Memorial Day and July 4, (which is) kind of a patriotic season,” Schwartz said. “… There will be that feeling of support for the veterans and the appreciation of the American flag.”
The exhibit will feature between 60 and 70 pieces of artwork from 17 veterans, as well as an additional 35 pieces from six members of Schwartz’s Art for Adults with Special Needs classes in a separate area. The show will include artwork of many different themes and mediums, and all artwork will be for sale. The exhibit also will feature painted 3-D butterflies, which will be auctioned off to support the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte.
Schwartz said there are many reasons behind the title “Freedom,” with the first being that much of the artwork was created by people who fought to protect the nation’s freedom. But there’s also a deeper meaning behind the theme.
“For the vets, as well as the students with special needs, by participating in the art classes they develop a newer sense of freedom,” she said. “They discover new things about themselves, they develop new skills … (it’s) freedom of expression. Everybody has the opportunity to express themself, and we’re doing it through art.”
Schwartz is passionate about the Art for Veterans classes because they offer veterans an outlet she believes can bring a sense of psychological and emotional healing, particularly for those who have seen battle.
Tom Shaw can attest to the sense of therapy the classes provide. Shaw served in the U.S. Navy alongside his brother during the Yom Kippur War in the Mediterranean in 1973. He joined Art for Veterans for the opportunity to express his feelings and create something he could be proud of.
“It’s got me expressing myself in a different way that my children and family can see. It’s (also) got me involved, having relationships with vets (who) also have a lot of things on their mind,” Shaw said.
Shaw, who’s embarked on mission trips to six different continents, draws his inspiration from places he’s visited and things he’s experienced. He uses acrylics and watercolors and will feature eight pieces in the show – including paintings of a mother panda and her baby, the Navajo mesas, Tibetan mountains and more.
Though Kimberly Mullis never saw battle, she also has experienced healing from the Art for Veterans classes. Mullins served as a nurse in the U.S. Air Force during Desert Storm, tending to veterans stateside. She was involved in an automobile accident in the mid-1990s and spent years recovering and managing pain from her
The classes, for Mullins, have been like a more enjoyable version of occupational therapy. She enjoys using acrylics to create pieces inspired by the ocean and plans to enter three to four pieces in the exhibit.
The Art for Veterans program has offered something else for Mullins – the chance to break free from loneliness and isolation and enjoy the company of fellow veterans.
“Loneliness and isolation are damning to the soul, the spirit, and this class helps you express your heart and clear your mind,” Mullins said. “It’s a nice opportunity to speak to other veterans … You can share what you want to share or not talk much at all. It’s given me a lot of growth.”
The McDowell Arts Center will host a reception for “Freedom” on June 15, a Sunday, from 3 to 5 p.m. Call 704-321-7275 or email Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on “Freedom” or the Art for Veterans classes.