Rockford VA art project gives veterans an expressive outlet

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A project at the Rockford Veterans Affair Clinic provides veterans an outlet to express the trauma they endured during war.

Masks lining waiting room walls reveal the trauma of war. It’s part of the Rockford VA Clinic’s  “Veterans Mask Making Project.”

Participating veterans say art gives them a form to express themselves when words can’t. They hope the art on display can show other veterans that they’re not alone in dealing with mental illness. 

“We created masks that reflect those things that we are hiding inside of us, as a way to show other veterans that they’re not alone in their struggles,” said Rockford VA Clinic certified peer specialist Kati Beck.

“They get to be able to share their experiences of what they’ve went through in life and what they’re currently suffering in in life as a veteran,” said Rockford VA Clinic office manager Jimmy Walker. 

Some of the masks displayed share what kept veterans going during times of war.

“I was always thinking of home, kids and stuff while I was there,” said Golden ‘Jim’ Marlow, a Desert Storm Veteran. “That’s what kept my mind straight at the time.”

Liz DeWispelaere was injured while she was in the Navy, her mask includes words she could relate to.

“Disconnected, not allowed to talk about what was going on,” DeWispelaere said. “There’s this weight on me. I have anxiety and depression.”

Some masks are from those not ready to discuss their personal stories just yet.

“So what we did with their mask is they put things that have helped them in their recovery, things that have helped their mental illness,” Beck said. “You know, there’s dogs and art.”

Marlow wanted to make his mask to deal head-on with his own personal struggles.

“It’s not a faceless, motionless boogeyman,” Marlow said. “It’s got a face. It’s got something I can handle now.”

The masks will be on display for the rest of May. Veterans wishing to make masks can do so on Fridays at noon to 2 p.m. for the rest of the month at 816 Featherstone Rd, Rockford, IL 61107.

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