Artful Creations of Pain and Vision

Through a friend, I was invited to join fellow service women in an community-based artistic endeavor of a most mysterious kind–one with the thrill of possibly ending up shellacked and put on display!

How could I say “No” to that?

The event, held at the Kent County Veteran Services building, invited female veterans to join a community art project in creating something hopeful.

The Yellow Ribbon Workshop envisioned by artist, Pamela Alderman, was sponsored in part by WINC–a post-military service organization for female veterans to support their re-entry into civilian society as well as to provide a safe place to sound off about injuries–both physical and otherwise–incurred during service. I’m not much of a joiner–my four years in the military sort of soured me on impulsive, long-term commitments–but I was interested enough to sign on and show up on that cloudy Saturday morning–child and ABA aide in tow.

We had no idea what we were in for…but happily, it turned out to be something easy and fun–decoupaging painted scraps of paper onto a plywood tree, and maybe planting a seed for future good things to happen.

Can you guess what we are making? Trees! Using wood and paper. Kind of cheating, when you think about it.

For those of you who live in the Grand Rapids area, you may have stumbled across Pamela Alderman’s community-based ArtPrize entries before. I met the artist while slapping her materials to a board and gluing the hell out of them; she tactfully scrapped my over-enthusiastic efforts into something more art-like. She wasn’t terribly concerned about our inexperience–reassuring me that any thing that spilled over an edge could be trimmed up later. (I am mentally picturing this poor woman buried neck-deep in gluey-paper chips wondering what she was thinking letting neophytes at her creation!)

It was hard to delve into the purpose of the piece while actively drizzling Modpodge by the fistful, so I later found this description of her intended vision on her website:

Military families tie yellow ribbons around trees to represent empathy and support for soldiers returning home; the yellow ribbon also symbolizes suicide prevention. Expanding these traditions, Yellow Ribbon consists of three wooden trees designed by the artist with the hands-on involvement of the veteran community. The broken-looking trees feature stories of resilience despite PTSD and veteran suicide, battles still being fought.

Due to COVID-19, however, this year’s Art Prize has been put on hold. Which means this current Yellow Ribbon project will be looking for a venue to hopefully call attention to a very important mission–veterans in crisis, veterans in need, and families in mourning. There was a mention of possibly locating it somewhere on the Grand Valley University campus, so I’ll keep my eye out for the installation’s eventual reveal party!

We need to make room in our communities for wounded veterans of all walks–a place of safety to welcome returning service people and their families to celebrate life, commiserate loss, and hope for a more peaceful future where every soldier comes home for good.

Perhaps we can find a way to start on that optimistic journey as we walk through a decoupaged forest touched by many hands and exhibiting the artwork of veterans who utilize tactile art to express their pain and battle with adversity–putting their soul on a raw canvas in hopes of healing and understanding.

Hard to believe this took us less than two hours to slap and glue down a scrap at a time. I can only imagine how long it took the artist to bring all these components together. Likely a lifetime.


I am now neck deep in homeschooling (because ‘remote learning’ does not do this kind of seat-of-the-pants educational experiment justice) so expect fewer flybys from yours truly unless and until COVID-19 takes a hike or I get some more service people in to help!

6 thoughts on “Artful Creations of Pain and Vision

    1. I know, right? I really didn’t know what the project would be until we showed up. Our only warning was to wear clothing we could get messy in. Even my son pitched in, so it was a huge success in that regard. At first, I didn’t recognize these as ‘trees’ until someone told me. And it didn’t strike me as funny at the time, but while writing the post I saw the irony. It was good irony. I like to share the best irony I come across with friends!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I aim for the funny bone and take no prisoners. That’s just how I roll. And thanks again for inviting me. I can be pretty reluctant to get off my ‘assets’ and go anywhere to do stuff like that. You made it sound fun and welcoming. So, really, it’s all on you!


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