A group of ten Veterans, including two in wheelchairs, huddled around the foreboding bronze sculpture located in the middle of a near vacant gallery in the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The sculpture portrays a man, holding a shield in one hand. He is missing an arm and portions of both legs.
“What do you see?” asked their guide, docent Martha Bordwell.
Slowly the responses came: “Defiance. . . Never give up. . .Suffering. . .Sadness.”
After several minutes of discussion, the docent explained that the art, titled “Warrior with Shield,” was the work of a British artist, Henry Moore, who served in both WW I and WW II.
Knowing that the work was created by one of their brothers seemed to give it more meaning. “This one will be hard to forget,” a veteran commented. “At first, I didn’t like it but now that I know something about it, it’s not so bad.”
The Minneapolis Institute of Art has created a specialized tour for Veterans attending the Psychiatry Partial Hospital (PPH) program at the Minneapolis VA. The tour, titled "Honoring the Warrior” combines art history, art appreciation and art therapy into a unique therapeutic experience where veterans can explore their thoughts and feelings through their reactions to particular works of art.
During these tours veterans' sense of isolation is often confronted by the realization that warriors throughout civilization share many common features.
The tour begins at a large mural titled, “The Death of Germanicus,” the work of a 17th century French artist named Poussin. The painting shows the deathbed scene of a famous Roman General. He is surrounded by grieving soldiers and family members, including a small boy.
The Veterans discuss how the loss of a comrade can be difficult to deal with and how the death of a solider can impact the children left behind.
An oil painting by John Everett Millais called “Peace Concluded” portrays two young children huddled by their father and mother. A newspaper headline in the painting shows that the setting for the painting is the end of the Crimean War.
As the Veterans intellectually dissect the painting, they point to the expression on the face of the two young girls – one shows awe, as she stares at her father, perhaps because it has been years since her father went away and she doesn’t know who he is. The older daughter is holding onto her father, perhaps fearing that he might leave again. The Veterans discuss their own welcome home experiences with family and friends.
The tour also included a viewing of an original Japanese samurai uniform, and a painting by a Minnesota Native American artist that weaves together flags, medals and cultural symbolism from the Vietnam war.
According to Marianne Schumacher, PhD, Minneapolis VA PPH Program Manger, “The Veterans' Art Connection is a powerful therapeutic experience which veterans consistently rate as one of the most positive interventions offered in PPH. Many veterans are initially skeptical that going to an art museum will be beneficial, but after attending are surprised to find that they learned about themselves through the art in a way that enhanced their recovery. The collaboration with the Minneapolis Institute of Art is a wonderful example of a community organization reaching out to help veterans in their recovery process."
In reflecting on their visit, one Vietnam veteran said, “It was quite an experience to say the least. It will not be forgotten and I will think about it for a long time.” Another vet urged all Veterans to visit the Minneapolis Institute of Art. “There’s something for everyone. The staff’s knowledge allowed detailed information on each piece and exceeded all expectations.”
Article by Ralph Heussner, Public Affairs Officer; Photos by April Eilers, Medical Media