HUDSON, Maine — Jay Emerson of Glenburn, who grew up in Old Town and served in Vietnam 1967-68, knew a good idea when it crossed his path — that idea has grown to become the online American Veterans Arts and Crafts Gallery.
“It came about by accident,” he said. Last December, a counselor at the Bangor Veterans Clinic called Emerson and asked if he’d help another veteran figure out how to sell his artwork online. Emerson already had his own paintings and photography available for purchase on etsy.com, so he agreed to help. “The gallery idea came out of that conversation. Then I met with four or five other vets in February and we decided that the cost of setting up a real gallery would be too expensive. So we decided to have an online gallery.”
Behind the idea for the online gallery was the knowledge that veterans dealing with the aftermath of combat sometimes develop an interest in arts and crafts, or rediscover that interest, using the creative process counterbalance painful memories.
“I was really reluctant at first, but I started to get involved and the more you become involved the more it becomes your baby. Now it’s exciting. It brings more meaning to my life. I’m pleased with it,” Emerson said.
Most of the artists represented on the website, Emerson said, are self-taught and looking for a way to use their creative abilities.
“What surprised me is that counselors and wives call me to say how much veterans improve [when they get involved in art],” he said. “What it takes is for someone to be interested in your work. It makes you feel that what you are doing is worthwhile.”
Milton Turner of Plymouth, who served in the military for 37 years during the Vietnam era and twice in Iraq, where he was wounded, is one of artist veterans whose work is featured on the website.
“When I was younger, “ Turner said, “I liked Audubon’s work so I picked up a pencil and started drawing. I lived next door to Slim Clark. He was quite a wildlife artist, besides being a singer. I showed him my pencil drawings and he advised me to do oil paintings. I took a class he was teaching at Nokomis High School, but he sent me to an artist in Waterville and I studied with him for six years. I was trained to paint in extreme detail like the Renaissance painters do. But after I got out of the military I didn’t want to do art anymore.”
But that began to change when his son asked his help with a dog portrait.
“After that I started painting again. It’s relaxing, takes your mind off war and stuff. Art helps me focus and think straight.”
The online gallery offers work from artist veterans who do fine art, make walking sticks, make pottery, raise sheep and spin yarn, write books, craft stained glass pieces, do woodworking, forge art from metal, make baskets and take photographs. There is even a page for musicians who have made CDs of their music. Veterans from all branches or military service are included.
“We have expanded the website to include anything veteran-related,” Emerson said. At the site, veterans can learn how to apply for veterans’ benefits, ask confidential questions, get advice about using a computer, access a page that features links to websites of interest to veterans or post poetry or other writing. It also features a calendar of events.
The website service is free to veterans, though those who sell artwork through the website are asked to donate 6 percent of proceeds to help with the cost of keeping the website up and running.
While the gallery is virtual for now, it does have manifestations in “real” time. Approximately 20 artist veterans have work on display and available for purchase at Monument Square Mercantile in Dover-Foxcroft. Work also is on display through Labor Day at Bangor City Hall.
The mission of the organization is to establish a gallery in the Bangor area to display items created by veterans of all wars, particularly disabled veterans. The public can assist the effort in several ways:
• By donating art supplies to the Bangor Veterans Clinic to help the agency establish an arts and craft program for vets.
• By making a monetary donation toward the establishment of a gallery.
• By going to the website and purchasing a hat at a cost of $6. Proceeds benefit the gallery.
• By attending the Bucksport Bay Festival Saturday and Sunday, July 27-28; and the Bangor Sidewalk Art Show, Saturday, Aug. 4, when veterans’ arts and crafts will be on display and available for purchase.