Healing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Creating Art

Maurice Costello featured artisi

This first painting of the series is actually the second completed and represents the young man prior to military experience, naïve and innocent. Mixed Media, 36” x 47”, 2003. The second image was completed in 2001. Here the artist wants to capture the intense and profound fear of combat without graphic detail. Mixed Media, 42” x 48”, 2001. This third image represents a shift in thinking to an eventual return to “The World” or home with all of the conflicts associated with that kind of “homecoming.”  Mixed Media, 46” x 49”,2005. This final portrait in the series reveals an older man coming to terms with a lifetime of conflict with an understanding of survival both physical and psychological in scope. Mixed Media, 33” x 45”, 2005 (Photo: NVVAM)

Chicago, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Recently, I learned about the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum (NVVAM) located at 1801 S. Indiana Ave., Chicago. The mission of the NVVAM is to inspire a greater understanding of the real impact of war with a focus on Vietnam. The museum collects, preserves and exhibits art inspired by combat and created by veterans particularly those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Museum History

In 1981, a few Vietnam combat veterans put together an artistic and historical collection that would become a timeless, humanistic statement of war on behalf of all veterans for future generations.

While the stigma against PTSD continues, veterans around the country have found a way to let the healing process begin — making art. Although many may never fully recover, creating art has provided a chance for them to express the joy, pain, fear and devastation of their experiences in Vietnam, becoming an outlet for their inner voices. The artistic process, alone, has been an essential ingredient for the recipe of good mental health and spiritual nourishment; something they never had before. Their artwork is proudly presented at the NVVAM.

The rare collection assembled by a group of veterans blossomed in the post-war era and has now grown into the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, the world’s only museum with a permanent collection focusing on the subject of war from an artistic perspective. Visitors express that this perspective is a universal message to all generations, and cultures.

The Vietnam Veterans Art Group was created in Chicago in 1980, and the group mounted its first exhibit of veteran artwork, “Reflexes and Reflections,” a year later, which toured museums and galleries in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Austin and Columbia, SC.

The overwhelming emotional response to the work, along with an increasing amount of contributions by artists, led to the official establishment of the NVVAM. After viewing the collection, Mayor Richard Daley was so personally moved that he allocated a permanent building in 1995 to house the NVVAM. The NVVAM opened the doors to its permanent home on South Indiana in August 1996.

In November 1998, Harry N. Abrams, Inc (New York) published a fine arts book about the Museum’s unique collection and its artistic significance. “Vietnam: Reflexes and Reflections” received extensive critical acclaim and accompanying media coverage, including “CBS Sunday Morning,” “The Jim Lehrer News Hour,” National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” The Washington Post, Playboy, Forbes and the Chicago Tribune.

Today, NVVAM is still located in Chicago’s South Loop and houses over 1500 works of art, including paintings, photography, sculpture, poetry and music. All the works in the Museum’s permanent collection were created and comprised by more than 100 artists who chronicled their individual experiences from the Vietnam War.

The artwork presented at the Museum provides a unique viewpoint on the controversial subject of war to all visitors. It is a tenuous and reflective balance of beauty and horror, giving unique insight into the psyche of combat veterans and consequential hindsight war leaves on its survivors.

The collection is born from the sheer sentiment of those who personally experienced the immediate suffering and realities of war. It’s clear the artists have experienced the creative and spontaneous insight, and intuition, that comes from witnessing the magnitude of human combat and death first-hand.

Stretching Beyond Vietnam

Since 2003 the NVVAM has broadened its mission to include art by all war veterans. Recent exhibits include:

“Trauma & Metamorphosis I & II” shows the transfiguration of these soldiers’ memories of the atrocities they’ve experienced, turning it into art. For the first time, these veterans and artists gain some measure of control over their Vietnam traumas, allowing the process of healing to begin. All of “Trauma & Metamorphosis’” artists endure symptoms of PTSD in varying degrees and have chosen to share their journey of healing through this very special exhibit.

“First to Fight: US Marines in Vietnam, the Early Years” includes more than 90 works of art created by Marines and Navy Hospital Corpsman. These works encompass the early era of the Vietnam War from the landing of the first Marine combat troops in early 1965 to the Tet Offensive of January 1968. The artwork that makes up “First to Fight” offers an insight into the unique role of the Marine Corps early on in the war. As a small, but hard hitting and self-contained strike force, Marines were the first American combat troops to land in Vietnam and were assigned to protect the combat airbase at Danang and the border of North Vietnam.

“Things They Carried” an interactive and educational exhibit for children to learn what kinds of things soldiers carry with them during war, try on an 80-pound back pack, try on boots and uniforms. The exhibit was inspired by the book, which was selected by Mayor Daley as required reading for the Chicago Public Schools.

“Children of War" large and unique collection of artwork by Vietnam Veterans that depicts the children of the Vietnam War, and offers a "civilian" component exploring the War’s impact on the children of veterans. There are two views of war and children. The exhibit includes photos taken by veterans of Vietnamese children and a variety of art by children of veterans, who search to know their fathers, and understand the War, through art. This poignant exhibit features works by three children of Vietnam Veterans as well as a number of pieces by Vietnam Veterans about children, showing that war affects everyone, young and old, American and Vietnamese children alike.

Operation Babylift On the 30th Anniversary of Operation Babylift chronicled the story of thousands of Vietnamese children rescued and brought to loving homes in America. Lana Noone has dedicated her life to maintaining the memory and importance of Operation Babylift. She adopted two girls; one died just one month after coming to the U.S. due to critical illness. That day Noone pledged to her dying daughter that she would do whatever she could to help the world remember Operation Babylift. Today she operates a website dedicated to Babylift ( Noone, an author, has spoken on the topic to a variety of national, international and local media, including Newsday, The New York Times, “People”, USA Today, “Good Morning America”, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “48 Hours”, and has presented programs to numerous organizations across the country.

“Shifting Memories” It was a photo that would become one of two large oil paintings (Number 52), that sets the stage for 24-year old Iraq war veteran Aaron Hughes’ “Shifting Memories” exhibit. The photo is of Hughes and a sergeant in front of a burnt Humvee, only its charred metal frame remaining. Three soldiers died when the car was hit in an ambush. Hughes served 18 months in Iraq and attends The University of Illinois, where he was initially an Industrial Design major. Now a senior, Hughes turned his studies to the College of Fine and Applied Arts. In “Shifting Memories”, Hughes shares a series of projects that bring to the forefront the very complex personal realities of the War in Iraq.

In addition to pictures of the various events, the NVVAM website includes a wealth of resources for those that may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The NVVAM is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Group tours of 40 or more can be scheduled on Mondays. Admission is free for Museum Members, $10 for the general public and $7 for students. To schedule a tour, call 312-326-0270.

Source: National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum