Registered Psychotherapist Marillyn Saffery, President of the Ontario Art Therapy Association, organized an art exhibit comprised of military members’ work called Veterans Voices: The Art of Healing. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

Purvis Gallery hosts Veterans’ Voices: The Art of Healing exhibit

By Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post

Posted on Thursday November 8, 2018

The Veterans Voices: The Art of Healing exhibit asked military members to dig deep within themselves and turn their pain, sorrow, anxiety and exhaustion into art.

This intensely intimate exhibit was on display until Nov. 3 at the Purvis Gallery in Pembroke, showcasing the art of 15 different veterans. Some have only one piece while others have many.

It was the brainchild of Marillyn Saffery, registered psychotherapist and president of the Ontario Art Therapy Association. Most of the artists are her current or former clients and many of them have chosen to stay anonymous.

“This is really confidential work,” she said.

“A lot of them are not artists per se,” she added. “They don’t consider themselves as such, but you don’t have to be an artist to do art therapy because we are just using the language of art to communicate.”

Art therapy can be used to heal individuals suffering from traumas. When Saffery is with a client, she asks them to put their pain on canvas using different therapy methods such as bilateral drawing, “no-thinking-allowed” painting and sculpting, while addressing different themes including traumatic events and intrusive thoughts and dreams, finding memories that are grounding and safe, and doing meditative and mindful art.

Working on art taps into some subconscious part of them, allowing memories and feelings to bubble up and be worked out on canvas, Saffery noted.

“The work always represents something, always,” she said.

Using art as part of the recovery process helps those suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other mental health challenges deal with their trauma in a creative, safe environment.

By putting these personal art pieces into the public eye, Saffery also hopes to raise more awareness of PTSD and of art therapy as a whole.

“Veterans themselves need witnesses for what they are going through,” she said. “It gives them a voice because all too often they are silent and they isolate themselves.”

The opening day on Oct. 23 was well attended with many members of the public as well as the artists themselves perusing the art pieces in the gallery.

“It feels like we are doing something bigger than ourselves,” said Megan McAndrews, manager at Purvis Gallery. “It is more about the community. It wasn’t even a question when we were asked.”

She couldn’t pinpoint a favourite among the pieces as each had a story to tell. Though they varied in style, skill-level and method, the art pieces were undoubtedly personal and their symbolism spoke loudly to anyone willing to listen.

Petty Officer 1st Class Derrick Nearing was one of the artists who wasn’t afraid to affix his name to his pieces. He read some of his powerful poems to the crowd, sharing his healing journey with them.

He managed to find some solace in his creativity and has even published a book of short stories entitled, Anchor of My Heart - Memories of a Cape Breton Childhood.

“I think that it is absolutely fabulous that the veterans have agreed to do this kind of exposure because normally this isn’t done,” Saffery said.