Veteran finds, shares the healing power of art

Steve Jones knows firsthand the healing power of art, which is why he’s keen to support the Massachusetts Veterans Art Exhibit.

The exhibit, with a theme of "Perspectives on Military Service,” organized by The Brookfield Institute, will run Nov. 1-30 at Art Works Gallery, 69 Main St., Ware. Artists are invited to submit their work now through Oct. 15.

‘CAS-EVAC’ by Steve Jones

‘CAS-EVAC’ by Steve Jones

Jones is not only sponsoring the exhibit, but entering it.

His artwork, acrylic and charcoal on paper is titled, “CAS-EVAC."

Steve and Brenda Jones in front of Warrior’s Art Room, 360 Elm St., Westfield.

Steve and Brenda Jones in front of Warrior’s Art Room, 360 Elm St., Westfield.

Jones’ journey home from war was full of hills and valleys. After serving for eight years in the Marines, including one tour in Iraq, Jones first few years were swell.

Then they weren’t.

“I don’t know what happened but many of the guys I served with starting experiencing symptoms. There were suicides. There was depression,” Jones said. It had been more than three years since he’d left the Westover MASS-6, seven years since he’d gotten back from Iraq. “I knew I had to do something,”

That something, for Jones, was going back to school to study clinical psychology. He had to take a certain number of humanities classes and, since he knew he couldn’t sing, he took art.

“I had never had art, except for elementary school, but it turns out I was pretty decent at drawing.” He took some painting classes and studied under an inspirational teacher who “taught us to paint feelings and emotions.” That was a turning point for Jones. “It wasn’t about the outcome; it’s about the process. And through that process I created a piece with my feelings and emotions that pretty much set me free from my ‘awake-time’ PTSD symptoms. I got what I couldn’t talk about out on paper — and the rest I could talk about.” He said other veterans in his classes experienced the same freeing aspect of making art.

Jones learned more about art (from the inspirational teacher), then became an inspiration himself. He started an open studio for veterans, active-duty military and their families to come in and create. The Warrior's Art Room is a nonprofit organization with the mission of providing veterans, active duty military and their families a place to create art.

One of the aspects Jones strives to get across at Warrior's Art Room is that the end result is not the point. “What you paint doesn’t have to be a masterpiece,” he said. One of his favorite exercises is to have people put 11 random dots on a canvas. They then connect the dots however they want and interpret the results. That way, Jones said, they’re not creating something realistic; they’re creating something they’re interpreting, something out of their imaginations.

Another fruitful workshop is showing the new artists “how to see.” Jones will often take a regular rock and cover up all of it except for one small square. The artists study what’s in that square, finding millions of flecks of color, a real “explosion of color,” Jones said. “It teaches them to actually see things; abstract, tiny things in life."

Most of all, Jones wants to share the healing powers of art with his fellow veterans and their families. There’s no cost to attend the Warrior's Art Room, which opened in its new facility at 360 Elm St., Westfield, this summer. It’s open four days a week. On Fridays, Steve and Brenda Jones take their art classes to jails and paint with veterans who have been incarcerated.