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Veterans group finds ease at Medford Art Center

Burlington County Times - 7/5/2018

MEDFORD — Once every month, on the fourth Friday, a group of veterans converges on the Medford Art Center on Main Street. A three-hour-long art class taught by two established artists and offered free of charge is what brings them together.

But they also come looking for something else.

One relishes a sense of being away from the world. Another delights in learning new things. A third has found companionship and the joy of sharing time with others who although strangers at first were immediately recognizable because of a shared experience.

"There is an instant bond that can't be explained,'' said Karen Dalton-Williams, of Browns Mills section of Pemberton Township, a 21-year Army veteran, who loves using colored pencils and erasers to practice shading. "It's a beautiful way to learn,'' she said. "Serving in the military is a unique experience and sharing the classes with fellow veterans gives me focus and a sense of peace.''

Michael Abair, an Evesham resident and Marine Corps veteran, saw a notice about the classes in the Burlington County Times. He has become a regular. "I love learning about the role of math in painting,'' he said after a class discussion about the Golden Ratio.

"Leonardo De Vinci used it as an artistic tool,'' said instructor Jill Radwell. "It appears in patterns throughout nature.''

Radwell and Mount Holly artist Art Smith organize and conduct the monthly classes with input from their students. "We are not therapists, but we know the benefit of incorporating art into our lives,'' said Smith, who recently had a solo show at the Church Street Art and Craft gallery in Mount Holly.

There is a healing aspect in making art, he said. "Whatever pain you're holding on to, you put it on the back burner. It's a respite, a safe place where you will not be judged.''

Although Smith avoids the word, therapy, one student said for him the art classes were just that. Manish Karnik, an Army National Guard veteran, said he was looking for a way to relieve stress. "I wanted something to help me deal with all the things in my head,'' he said, adding, "art gets your mind interested in art.''

Since its modest beginning, the class numbers have grown and now between eight and 10 men and women regularly attend. Smith noted how indebted they are to the art center for its financial support. The group can be contacted at 602-318-6676.

The classes started slowly last January. Bryan McPhee, of Mount Laurel, was the first and only student at the initial session. "I saw a notice at a Veterans Administration center,'' he said.

An Air Force veteran, who served as a navigator on the C-141 Starlifter out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, McPhee has travelled the world and is always interested in new things.

"I'll never be an artist, but learning about it opens your eyes to new possibilities,'' he said.

 
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