Soldier On: First Friday Artswalk showcases veterans' artwork

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Photo Gallery | Soldier On artwork displayed for First Fridays Artswalk

PITTSFIELD — Russell Wyatt gets more confident in his artistic ability with each passing day.

The 57-year-old Navy veteran isn't afraid to try new painting styles and a range of subjects from outer space to swinging in a hammock among birch trees.

"I call it wild imagination," he said. "Having no style is my style."

Wyatt's art is also therapeutic as, once homeless in Philadelphia, he came to Soldier On in Pittsfield five years ago to get back on his feet. He has since transferred from the transitional care facility on West Housatonic Street to Soldier On's permanent veterans housing next door.

Painting was the emotional outlet Wyatt needed on the road to stability.

"It's helped me with my mental injuries; it helps me relax and is a great hobby," he said.

Wyatt is among the dozens of current and former Soldier On residents in Pittsfield and in Leeds enrolled in the nonprofit organization's Veterans Community Arts Initiative. Several of the program's artists will make their debut this evening during the city's First Fridays Artswalk.

Each month between 15 and 20 downtown businesses show case primarily paintings and photographs from local visual artists, with several of the venues having opening receptions from 5 to 8 p.m. The veterans art will only be on display during that three-hour period at the Intermodal Transportation Center on the corner of Columbus Avenue and North Street. Typically, First Fridays art is on display for the remainder of the month.

Shortly after Soldier On hired Nathan Hanford as its art director three years ago, the Becket artist created the art initiative that has had a range of talent.

"I'm working with people who've suffered strokes, never painted before or are seasoned artists," he said.

Hanford hopes the First Fridays debut will lead to a more regular showing of the veterans work. He currently has a rotating exhibit of his students paintings at the Hilltown Community development Corporation based in Chesterfield, between Worthington and Leeds.

"We hope that this is the beginning of an ongoing partnership between Soldier On and First Fridays Artswalk venues," said Pittsfield Cultural Development Director Jen Glockner.

The veterans art is the latest in art therapy exhibits taking hold during First Fridays Artswalk. The Berkshire Alzheimer's Partnership "Memories in the Making" returns on Friday at Downtown Pittsfield Inc. after making its debut last year.

"It's especially nice for the families of the Alzheimer's patients to see their loved ones express themselves with these beautiful pieces of art," Glockner said.

The Soldier On art initiative has seen a few of its pupils hone their skills to the point it's no longer a hobby, but a career. Hanford cited one veteran who has his own studio apartment in the downtown.

"He's painting profusely and having his own shows," he said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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