Veterans Tell Their StoriesMar 12, 2015 01:40PM ● By Erica Shames
Nina Talbot, who spent approximately two months on each piece in her “Veterans” series, relied heavily on the subjects to learn the details of how their pivotal decisions to enlist in the military affected them as individuals. The impressionist paintings done on linen take observers on a journey through the life of a soldier as interpreted through the eyes of a civilian artist. “If I wasn’t a painter, I might gravitate towards being a historian,” said Talbot.
The series covers a range of time periods from WWII to the Global War on Terror and 14 paintings from the series are currently on display in Carlisle. The public is invited to view the free exhibit from now through April 5, 2015 in the Gen. Omar N. Bradley Memorial Art Gallery at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC).
The focal point of each painting is the portrait of the veteran, surrounded by scenes and transformative events affecting their lives. Stories, written by Sophie Rand, accompany the paintings and provide additional insight into the life of each individual.
“We thought it was a good series to bring here because it tells soldiers’ stories through artwork. Part of our mission is to tell the army’s stories one soldier at a time,” explained Jack Leighow, director of AHEC. “Nina’s artwork captures the individuality and experiences, based on her interviews, in an artistic format that is colorful and quite vivid in a style that you normally wouldn’t expect to see in an army museum. It demands your attention.”
Among the 14 veterans depicted are Bronx resident Dorcedious Davis, an army medic who served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield. “The painting tells my transition from civilian to military,” said Davis, as she explained scenes in the painting, representing time spent at the U.S. postal service, the modeling career she left behind and a particularly provocative drawing of a female with bombs strapped to her body. “I was standing guard at a base camp hospital in Iraq and she attempted to gain entrance, saying she was coming to visit relatives,” said Davis, who was thankful that the woman was caught before people were killed.
Although Davis often experienced challenging situations as a female serving in the military, she said the situations she faced made her a much stronger person. “Knowing you are representing the USA, it’s the most awesome feeling in the world,” said Davis, who now works as an advocate for military women.
The portrait of DeNorval Parks, who served in Operation Desert Storm in the 369th Harlem Hell Fighters Unit as a military communications specialist, depicts the army veteran surrounded by barber chairs, reflecting his new life as a manager of a chain of barbershops in Harlem and Brooklyn. He explains the meaning of the MREs painted on the bottom right-hand side of the canvas, telling a story of how he saved up five days of food to distribute to hungry children, witnessing the fight that ensued as a result. “I don’t ever want to see my sons fighting over food,” he said of the experience.
A SCUD missile warhead hitting a building where soldiers had gathered is a scene that still haunts him as vividly in his mind as it appears in the picture. “I was driving away in a truck and heard the boom, looked back and saw the explosion. They were killed instantly,” said Parks. “The good part, as well as the bad part, in my life is in there.”
He is still concerned with issues that linger for far too many. “PTSD will have you blind, angry and stupid,” he said. The veteran, who lost both of his legs due to an accident unrelated to his service, said the strength he gained from the military gave him the intestinal fortitude to live life to the fullest. “And that’s why I went to barber school in my wheelchair. The army made me a tougher man than I thought I could ever be and I’m proud of my service.”
Talbot said she hopes her series will enable civilians to understand the intensity of the personal stories and how they fit into a larger context. “I hope the takeaway is a heightened sensitivity to the situation that veterans have to face,and the difficulty some have navigating their lives when they return home. I was happy to give them recognition for their service and, as a civilian, I feel it’s my service to their service. I feel that more civilians should learn about the challenges veterans have experienced and how their service to our country has impacted their lives.”
If you go:
and Education Center
950 Soldiers’ Drive, Carlisle
Now through April 5, 2015
Exhibit is free of charge and is located in the Gen. Omar N. Bradley Memorial Art Gallery
Written by Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
Photos by Gary Johnson and Michael Hnatov