ESCANABA, Mich. (WZMQ) – A new exhibit at the Bonifas Arts Center showcases the work of veterans and service members, as well as some of their caregivers and loved ones.
The “More Than a Uniform” exhibit features artists from the U.P. and Wisconsin, thanks to a partnership with the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center. A wide variety of mediums are on display.
“We wanted to highlight the fact that our service people are more than just the uniform,” said Bonifas Gallery Director Kate Oman. “They have emotions and thoughts beyond just their service time. We wanted to give them an opportunity to show how they use art as a way to get through some of the hard days and some of the easy days.”
Veteran Larry Godfrey served in the Army from 1969 to 1972, both in Vietnam and in Germany. He says art is in his blood.
“My mother was an artist,” he said. “I’m Ojibwe, Anishinaabe, so a lot of my work is done with traditional art.”
The rest, he calls “junkyard art.”
“I enjoy taking something from nothing and putting it together to bring out something,” Godfrey said.
One of Godfrey’s pieces, titled “Tormented,” is prominently displayed in the center of the gallery’s first floor. It contains several flags and a feather, surrounded by barbed wire.
“Trauma, PTSD, the different things that happened to veterans, the barbed wire—for me anyway—symbolizes that because of all the different points sticking out,” he explained.
Each detail is part of Godfrey’s personal story, from the flags down to the base.
“I was in armor in my years in Vietnam,” he said. “For the base, the sprocket is off a APV, armored personnel carrier. The copper is just a cover, but it’s the bullet holes that I put in it that kind of show some of the things that I experienced.”
The feather is a nod to his Native heritage, which is also shown in pieces like “We the People.”
“The flag and the piece around it is to let Natives know that they’re not forgotten,” said Godfrey. “The Natives put a lot of time in the military. It kind of comes from the warrior tradition in them.”
Creating these pieces over the years has been therapeutic for Godfrey. He wants other veterans who see them to experience that same feeling.
“For a veteran, it takes a lot to step out there in front anymore, because of the traumas that they come home with,” he said. “I’m hoping that it gives them a little bit of peace of mind. I’m hoping that it’s a little bit of healing for them.”
According to Oman, some of the pieces in the “More Than a Uniform” exhibit may be difficult for some guests to view. However, she says it is a story that needs to be told.
“We need to be able to invoke emotion—happy, anger, sad—all of the parts that make us humans,” Oman said.
Oman says the exhibit also gives veterans a way to use art to tell stories they may not have shared before.
“I am beyond thrilled that we get to offer this to the community but also that the artists are opening themselves up,” she said. “A lot of these pieces are very personal. It’s a testament to what they’ve been through and where they are hoping to go, both artistically and personally.”
The “More Than a Uniform” exhibit is on display now through November 2. The Bonifas Arts Center is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.