For Sgt. Ron Kelsey, art is healing.
While deployed to Iraq five years ago, he used writing as a form of healing from the combat zone he found himself in.
Once he returned back to the states, Kelsey founded Reflections of Generosity, a foundation of soldier resilience. It’s traveling art exhibit debuted at Fort Hood’s Spiritual Fitness Chapel on Monday night and is available to the community weekdays through Feb. 6.
The exhibit features 130 pieces of art from 65 artists — a quarter of those are active-duty soldiers and another quarter are veterans. Kelsey, serving with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, has three pieces in the show.
“We can come together as a community to deal with rough issues,” Kelsey said. Much of the work depicts the pain or overcoming the pain related to military service.
Lynda MacFarland, spouse of III Corps and Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, was the guest speaker for Monday’s opening night of the exhibit. She said she met Kelsey while her husband was stationed at Fort Bliss, and was eager to share the artwork at her new post.
“The exhibit I believe highlights the resilience of the human spirit over adversity,” she said.
As Army spouse Stefanie Van Wagenen walked through the exhibit, she said she could see the pain in some of the art, but also the light.
“It’s a wonderful project trying to help soldiers overcome pain by expressing it,” she said. Walking away, she said she felt inspired to express herself through her favorite art medium — writing.
“(This exhibit) would be a benefit for anybody, but of course for a group of people who deal with pain even more so,” Van Wagenen said.
Artist Gwen Meharg, of Fort Worth, contributed seven paintings to the exhibit after meeting Kelsey in New York.
“I heard him share his story at the International Arts Movement and there’s not a lot of ways to (give back) as an artist, and his heart is in that place,” she said. “The paintings I’ve donated are some of my favorites. ...I could sell it, but this way it’s got a purpose.”
One painting in particular is mostly black, but upon closer inspection, color and light shining through the darkness. Meharg said she painted the piece after a sudden death of a young family member. Even though she isn’t a veteran, she thinks anyone who’s experienced loss can be moved by the work.
“Maybe somebody who’s been through the dark, can see the light and can tell their story,” she said. “I hope people have a chance to look at this and tell their story.”
Over the next two weeks, MacFarland encouraged anyone from the greater Fort Hood community to stop by and appreciate the work of these artists — particularly those still serving their country.
“Look on with respect and gratitude for all that these soldier artists are as human beings, in service to their nation and as somebody’s battle buddy, as somebody’s child, parent, spouse,” she said. “It is a wonderful thing. They are brave enough to go to war, and brave enough to share their art with us.”