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‘Vets Experience’ aims to help community understand

Maj. Gen. John Borling, author of “Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton,” will speak May 20 at the Sheldon Theatre.1 / 2
Yvette Pino of Madison, Wis., devised the Veteran Print Project and will match vets with artists.2 / 2

By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor

When Dan Guida learned that one of his former students at Red Wing High School was having problems processing his experiences in the military, Guida wanted to find some way to help.

The young man, recently returned from a tour of duty, told Guida that music and art seemed to make things better.

“I got to thinking about what we could do to provide veterans with opportunities to explore the arts,” said Guida, who is director of the Red Wing Arts Association. He put together a proposal for the Minnesota State Arts Board “arts access” grant program.

“I ran into Wendy Martinson” — U.S. Army Col. Wendy Martinson, retired commander of Fort Sam Houston, Texas — and learned that the Army also uses the arts to reach out to wounded veterans who are brought there after combat, Guida said.

With her input, he designed the Minnesota Veterans Art Experience with a half-dozen events for vets and local residents. It is about to become reality.

Veterans are invited to be a part of three key events. Participants can be men or women of any age representing any branch of the military.

A juried exhibit at the Depot Gallery will open on May 3. Veterans can submit all sorts of creative projects including written works and music as well as paintings, three-dimensional works, jewelry and photographs. The artwork does not have to reflect the military experience, but it can. “Part of the purpose is to help the community understand,” Guida explained.

That six-week exhibit will include images from the Veteran Print Project, which involves having an artist create a “Pict-Oral” image after hearing the veteran’s story. Yvette Pino of Madison, Wis., devised the project and will match vets with artists.

Some Red Wing artists plan to help create the prints, Guida said. The “Pict-Oral” histories also will be represented in a national touring show. The Phillip S. Duff Jr. Endowment was a major contributor to the activity.

The Veteran Art Retreat, which will be May 19-24 at Villa Maria Retreat and Conference Center in Frontenac, is designed as an opportunity for vets to spend a week in classes and workshops pursuing areas that interest them. Options range from classic arts such as painting and photography to cooking, music, theater and writing.

“It’s an opportunity for vets to explore the arts and possibly through art to explore their military experience,” Guida said. The added benefit is helping the community gain a better understanding.

However, he stressed, “It’s not therapy. It’s simply to explore and enjoy the arts.” The Legacy Grant funded the retreat; vets can attend for a shorter time if they can’t stay the whole week.

Several community events also are planned.

• Maj. Gen. John Borling, author of “Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton,” will speak May 20 at the Sheldon Theatre. The Duff Endowment is sponsoring the program, which is free to the public. A pilot from the Chicago area, Borling spent over six years as a POW in Vietnam. Prisoners had a forbidden code they used to communicate by tapping on the walls. He also will meet with veterans at the retreat.

• Patrick Dewane, an actor whose grandfather fought with the Army that liberated Poland during World War II, will present a one-man stage show on May 24 at the Sheldon. A State Arts Board grant is funding the performance.

• Martinson and Pino, who is an Iraq war veteran, also will speak during the events.

• Treasure Island Resort & Casino provided a grant to create a sculpture for Levee Park. Guida and Red Wing artist Dan Wiemer developed the concept and local artist Art Kenyon refined the design, Guida said. The association hopes to dedicate it the week of the retreat.

More information about all the activities can be found online at or by calling 651-388-7569. Veterans also can pick up application forms at the Depot Gallery.

Veterans invited to share their stories, explore art

Veterans have experiences that are unlike anything most people encounter in their daily lives. But that doesn’t mean the public isn’t interested in understanding.

The goal of the Minnesota Veterans Art Experience 2014 is to capture those experiences through the arts, and share them in ways that benefit both the veteran and people who want to better understand what local vets went through while serving in the military.

This Red Wing Arts Association project invites veterans to participate in three ways:

• Tell your story to an artist who will create a print that reflects your experience.

• Create your own work of art to display in a Veteran Artist Gallery show.

• Participate in an all-expense paid Veteran Art Retreat at Villa Maria where you can explore your creative side.

“I think there is a lot of misunderstanding by the community and by the veterans themselves,” said Dan Guida, RWAA director and a Vietnam-era veteran.“Helping the community understand what it means to be a vet will strengthen the community.”

“Being a vet changes you,” Guida added. “Your experience in the military is a life-changing thing. Sometimes the people around you don’t understand that when you come back, you have been changed by the experience.”

Telling stories through the arts is a way to communicate to other people things that can be difficult for a veteran to talk about — and sometimes difficult for people to listen to, Guida said.

“Joining this project is simple to do,” he added. Veterans can participate in one or more of the activities. Each has its own signup deadline.

The first activity is the Veteran Print Project. Applications are due Feb. 24. The first 20 veterans to apply each will be matched with an artist who will create a “Pick-Oral” history; it will be identified by the veteran’s first name only or it can be anonymous, if the veteran prefers. Ten copies will be made of each image, and the veteran will get the first one.

All of the images will be included in a Depot Gallery show opening May 3.

The second deadline is March 3 for veterans who would like to submit one piece of original art to the May 3 gallery show. Any medium is welcome, Guida said. The artwork does not have to reflect the military experience, but it can.

The third deadline is March 17 for the Veteran Art Retreat, which will be May 19-24 at Villa Maria. Forty vets will be selected to spend a week exploring the arts and creative activities. Room, board and class/workshop fees all are covered by grants, Guida said.

Several events also are planned in the community, including speakers, a one-man stage show at the Sheldon Theatre and dedication of a sculpture in Levee Park. The projects have funding from the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, Arts Access Program, Philip S. Duff Jr. Endowment, AMVETS and RWAA members.

For details, including application forms, go online to or call 651-388-7569, or visit the Depot Gallery at 418 Levee St. in Red Wing.