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Celebrating the Art of Veterans

The Veterans Art Exhibit brings a plethora of creativity to the Cannery Galleries

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Army Resting Place by Don Veverka, on display at the Veterans Art Exhibition at the Cannery Galleries. Photo by Bob Toy.

October in San Francisco signifies Fleet Week. Though most heralded for the large Navy ships docked at the piers and the Blue Angels air shows, the Academy of Art University, in partnership with San Francisco Fleet Week Association (SFFWA), hosted the Veterans Art Exhibit at the Cannery Galleries, near Fisherman’s Wharf, to celebrate the veterans who have looked to art as their next calling. 

This year’s exhibit was the fifth of its kind since the Academy and SFFWA partnered in 2010. According to Susan Toland, the association was looking for ways to connect with the San Francisco community when they reached out to the school seven years ago.

“The art community and creative community is very vibrant in San Francisco and we thought that would be a great audience to tap into,” said Toland, who is an SFFWA board member. “The first [show] was primarily Academy students who were veterans because that was the circle of people we knew the best. Since then, it’s expanded to include all kinds of veterans beyond the Academy.”

The gallery opened on Tuesday, Oct. 3, right at the beginning of Fleet Week. Beer, wine and appetizers were available for guests as they mingled and viewed the artwork—a mix of photography, paintings, sculpture, watercolor paintings, charcoal drawings and illustration. Kevin Goring, Cannery Galleries manager and curator, said this year they received over 350 submissions from 81 different artists. The goal was for every artist to have one piece selected to show the variety of skill levels within the artist pool. 

“It’s a different way to celebrate your veterans, especially in terms of art therapy,” Goring said. “A lot of the older veterans lack a creative outlet and we have a lot of veterans coming from the Yountville Veterans Home, where it’s evident through these submitted pieces that they do use art as a therapy.”

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Bob Bischoff, who served in the I&R platoon in the Philippines and Korea, with his sculptures, The Snake, Red Border and The New Guy at the Veterans Art Exhibition. Photo by Bob Toy.

Bob Bischoff, who served in the Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) platoon in the Philippines and Korea, and is a part of the Yountville community, had his sculptures on display: Wooden gourds that he drew and carved designs into with engineering pens, Sharpies and an X-Acto knife. 

“Any artistic event, the artist that gets feedback, that’s what makes it worthwhile. I do this because it helps me,” he smiled. “When I get someone com[ing] up to me and tell[ing] me they love my gourds, I get a kick out of that.”

Toland said this year’s exhibition wanted to focus not just on veterans who are pursuing art as a career, but those who use it as an outlet or for art therapy. Yun So, a veteran of the Marine Corps, views his art as “always a hobby, creative release.” His multi-colored Jimi Hendrix piece was a favorite at the exhibit, which is fitting as So likes to model his creative process—or flow—in similar ways to what Hendrix did with sound.

“I feel the most satisfied when I’m working on my art,” So said. “When I’m working on my art and when I’m in the zone and in my bubble and engaged in the moment.” 

So was encouraged to submit his paintings by Jennifer Brusstar, who works with the Tug McGraw Foundation, an organization that works to raise funds for brain research, especially around traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Along with the Academy, Tug McGraw, fStop Warrior Project and American Art Therapy Association (AATA) pooled their resources to shine a light on their veteran communities and the artwork many of them find solace in. 

“I have to create something,” So revealed. “Art keeps everything in my head sane. I can also express what I’m about.”

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Marine Corps veteran Yun So (pictured right) with a guest at the Veterans Art Exhibition. Photo by Bob Toy.

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Retired Navy sailor and current second-year School of Photography student Rachelle Arthur. Photo by Bob Toy.

As a retired Navy sailor and an Academy student, second-year photography major Rachelle Arthur said showing at the Veterans Art Exhibit is a full-circle experience. Her staunch black and white photos frame women dressed and posed in a pin-up style, with a few subtle odes to Arthur’s time as a sailor—a girl sitting poolside or wearing a sailor’s cap, or some semblance of a ship. 

“I feel like every time I create a piece of art, it’s literally expressing something that is inside of me,” she explained. “I am actually creating something of myself and a huge part of who I am is a sailor. I can let my work show who I am, as a veteran and an artist.”