LAMPASAS — After retiring as a first sergeant, James Nelson realized he greatly missed having the structure of the military in his life.
The Kyle resident was drafted in December 1972 and spent 25 years between active duty and the Army National Guard — two of those years were spent at Fort Hood. When he lost that structured lifestyle, he had a rough time adjusting to civilian life and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Woodcarving, he said, has become the therapy that brought his life back into his control.
“It’s more than therapy,” said Nelson.
About 10 years ago, he attended a woodcarving class on a whim and was shocked that the teacher just gave him a knife. He then began taking classes regularly, learning more, and now has carvings on display, including in a traveling art show currently in Lampasas.
“It’s more than a hobby and it’s more than a job. When I picked up that knife and started carving, I loved something as much as I love to do the Army,” said Nelson.
He is one of a dozen artists participating in the third annual Distinguished Artist Veterans, a touring art show for disabled Texas veterans through VSA Texas, a state organization on arts and disability.
“I hope people come because it’s a different show than we’ve had in town before,” said April Sullivan, artworks director for VSA Texas.
The show features 33 pieces on display at the Lampasas Higher Education Center through Sept. 29. The artists are from different branches of the military and some served overseas in combat as far back as the Korean War.
“There are a lot of very good artists that come from all branches of the military,” said Nelson. “I feel a kinship with them.”
Sullivan said she enjoys meeting the veterans and hearing them interact with one another.
“I don’t have a military background, so hearing James and other artists say ‘roger’ and other things, it’s almost like another culture. It makes me feel like I’m part of it,” she said.
One of Nelson’s pieces in the show is titled, “Abstract Melody.” Made of hard maple and cedar elm, the piece is a true abstract, he said.
“In the military you have to be a creative thinker. When I got out, I didn’t have to do that anymore. ... Now that I’ve got it back, I apply military standards of perfection to my art. I do it for me, not for anybody else.”
The show’s tour ends in November at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.