Wayne Williams and Adam Nilson are war Veterans. Even on United States soil, there are days when they feel far from at home. By creating art, they have found an unlikely way to settle in. They think it can help others too.
For Williams, who was stationed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia during the Vietnam War, the journey is 40 years and counting.
“Artwork to me is about expressing my deepest feelings, my fears, my encouragement in to self, the strong points in myself to keep pulling myself along,” said Williams, whose current focus is documentary film.
For Nilson, enrolling in photography at the University of Colorado Boulder helped him move forward as he adjusts to life after serving in Afghanistan.
“It sets you aside from everyone else and it is something most of us carry within and don’t really like to talk about,” Nilson said. “It’s why I’ve really fallen in love with photography because I am able to express things that I don’t really like to put in to words.”
The pair are among a dozen Veterans whose art will express what they have yet to say. It is part of a new exhibit at the Dairy Center for The Arts titled Veterans Speak. A year-and-a-half in the making, the two week long commemoration of Veterans consists of visual and performing art created by and focused on servicemen and women.
“We wanted to present a very complete menu for our patrons, to give them the experience of understanding the world of a Veteran better,” said Mary Horrocks, Dairy Center Curator of Visual Art and Education.
In the military both men had prescribed tasks and a clear sense of purpose. Civilian life isn’t that exact.
Following his service, Williams, 60, said he worked a variety of manual labor jobs. A brain surgery in the 90s, required to treat a war-related injury, left him disabled.
Williams’ creativity was encouraged by a nurse during a separate hospitalization in the 90s. Then suicidal he had little interest in her proposed project. Still, she presented him a white hat, a tray of paint, and a request – “just write something on it.”
“And I did, I wrote something. S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G,” Williams said recalling his rebellious act. “That gal gave me that hat and allowed me to be something.”
That hat, which he has kept, serves as a reminder of how far he has come and the things he has to live for – his wife and sons, fellow Veterans, and his art.
A glimpse of William’s work: