Art, according to Shari MacFarlane, artist from the Vienna Arts Society (VAS), is very healing. The process of creating art from experiences is healing. MacFarlane knows this from personal experience and his experience is a strong motivation for his volunteer work with the “soldiers on the mend” at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. MacFarlane is one of a dozen VAS artists who come to the hospital, inspiring patients with post-traumatic stress disorder to translate their feelings into visual expression on puzzle pieces. These individual pieces, all nested together, unified, became the puzzle of the “wall of healing”.
On Saturday, July 11, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., the Vienna Arts Society hosted a reception at the Vienna Art Center with the completed puzzle on display, in honor of the soldiers who participated in it. The original puzzle, from 2014, will also be on display.
“Each piece makes a powerful statement [on its own], and yet, is part of a much larger collaborative effort, ”said Dore ‘Skidmore, public relations manager.
MacFarlane’s father, a World War II veteran, suffered from PTSD, although the condition was not identified as such at that time. It wasn’t until years later that MacFarlane interpreted his father’s mood swings and temper tantrums at the traumatic stress he experienced after returning from the war. He died at the age of 60.
“Sometimes the soldiers would come in with empty faces, empty eyes,” MacFarlane said. “You cajole them a bit, and after a while you would see that sparkle in their eyes. ”
MacFarlane said a female soldier told him, “I had no idea I could do this. “
“It’s cathartic for them, helping them is cathartic for me,” MacFarlane said.
TWENTY-FOUR SOLDIERS created puzzle pieces, some creating more than one piece. Their pieces, and those of volunteer artists, have been assembled into one larger work.
“A soldier made something that looked like a cross,” said volunteer artist Grace Rooney. “I asked, is it a cross? He said, it could be. I asked if he wanted to add things around. No, he said. “I want it to be so you can visualize what’s around it.”
“Everyone has their own story, but when you put the pieces together it becomes ‘whole’,” Rooney said.
Over a year ago, the director of the Vienna Art Center, Lu Cousins, learned of the opportunity to partner with the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, reaching out to the healing soldiers. It was by chance that around the same time, VAS was planning to produce a large collaborative puzzle project made up of 12-inch puzzle pieces for its next exhibition in July. The original three volunteers, Terry Svat (an art therapist), Shari MacFarlane and Dore ‘Skidmore, brought the puzzle pieces to the troops at the hospital, calling on anyone with PTSD to have their say. VAS provided not only the artists, but all the necessary equipment. The end result in 2014 was the first “Wall of Healing” puzzle.
Throughout the year, VAS volunteer artists continued to bring puzzle pieces to the hospital, offering artistic advice and emotional support. A plan is underway to incorporate the puzzles into a permanent collection at the hospital.
“Sometimes you wonder what painting means,” Rooney said. “They tell you a personal story.”
THE OPENING RECEPTION for the “Wall of Healing” is Saturday July 11, 4 pm to 6 pm. Light refreshments are provided and there is the opportunity to spend time with hospital staff and artist volunteers.
To learn more about the Vienna Arts Society and its community outreach courses and programs, visit www.viennaartssociety.org. The Vienna Art Center is located at 115 Pleasant Street NW, on the corner of Maple Avenue.