‘More Than a Uniform’ veterans exhibit now open at Bonifas Art Center

Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 11:34 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2023 at 7:44 PM EDT
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ESCANABA, Mich. (WLUC) - Art by veterans and family members of veterans covers the walls and floors in the More Than a Uniform exhibit at the Bonifas Art Center in Escanaba.

Alyssa Knoll, community engagement coordinator at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, said the name of the exhibit has special significance.

“We named it ‘More Than a Uniform’ hoping that the community will come and see that beyond the uniform they wore, they are creating these exquisite pieces of art,” Knoll said. “There’s so much more to our military members than what meets the eye or what people might initially think of when they think of a military veteran.”

Knoll began organizing the exhibit two years ago after asking herself several questions.

“How do we connect veterans to other veterans?” Knoll said. “How do we connect them to their community? How do we give them a coping strategy, something that really engages them, that they can do on their own? So, really, this show is all about connection.”

Knoll and Kate Oman, director of the Bonifas Art Gallery, to organize the show. At the same time, Knoll began connecting veterans with each other through art classes the VA offered at the Art Center and throughout the U.P.

Some of the art in the exhibit was created in those classes, while other veterans in the exhibit said they have been doing their art for years.

“Somebody asked me how long I’ve been painting,” said Bill Irving, artist and veteran. “In second grade, instead of listening to the teacher, I’d doodle.”

Irving said the More than a Uniform exhibit is unique.

“It is very special,” he said. “I’m so glad this was set up like this. I like meeting the other artists. I like talking to other veterans to find out what they did.”

Much of the art on exhibit is inspired by time spent in the armed forces, such as Irving’s painting, “The Thousand Yard Stare” which features a military truck driver who served in Iraq.

“When you go through enough PTSD stuff, you don’t look at people, you don’t focus on people,” Irving said. “You focus on the thousand-yard stare.”

Oman encouraged everyone to attend the “heart-wrenching” exhibit, because “it is a story that needs to be told.”

The exhibit is in the Powers Gallery at the Bonifas Art Center through Nov. 2.