MU Craft Studio features art work from veterans

Thursday, November 11, 2010 | 8:14 p.m. CST
MU veteran Michael Fiscella, speaks with fellow MU veterans Adam Chmielik, Nick Kundert and Tony Olson about his ceramic tank that he made in ceramics class. Fiscella also had a series of black and white photography prints from a trip he took to Washington D.C. on display.

COLUMBIA — Pictures that told stories of faith, pride and nature lined the walls of the MSA/GPC Craft Studio on Veterans Day, giving viewers a glimpse into the experiences of the artists behind them.

Veterans showcased their sculpture, photos and drawings as part of the studio's Veterans Week exhibit. All of the artists are current or former MU students.


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Ryan Burke, 27

One picture in the gallery, larger than the rest, features a Bible opened to a passage that lends itself to the title of the photo: "The Armor of God." The shadow of the reader's notations from the previous page can be seen. A sword extends further than the frame allows while a gun lays adjacent with one bullet in its chamber and another in the book's crease.

The photographer, MU alumnus Ryan Burke, said when he was preparing to fulfill his duties as a Marine, he drew spiritual and physical readiness from the passage.

"You can't take God out of what you do," he said.

Burke said he never considered himself a photographer, let alone an artist. Even as his photos hung in the gallery, he explained that he wasn't trained to use photography as an art, but as a reconnaissance tool.

Another photo, titled "Hero Complex," shows Marines suspended from a helicopter. 

"Every Marine wrestles with (the Hero Complex)," he said. "We grow up on super heroes and action heroes, and we don't see those heroes in reality ... so we have to become them."

Burke said the Marine Corps offered him experiences most people would never see or feel.

"If I could teach them the wisdom I acquired, but save them the pain of actually seeing the evils of war, then I feel like my pictures have purpose," he said.

Michael "Fish" Fiscella, MU Senior

Fiscella said he hoped to show the "brighter side" of military history through his photography series.

"Everybody thinks veterans are all about destruction and fighting," Fiscella said. "We all have our creative sides to us and different personalities and ways we see the world and what we think is beautiful."

His photos depict war memorials and have a reverential tone to them, which reflects what Fiscella described as a "proud to be an American" sentiment.

He also contributed a mixed-media sculpture of a tank on sand titled "Silence," which he said represented a defining part of his military career.

"For five years, that was my life — everything about the vehicle itself," he said of the tank. "That was something I knew that was very close to me."

Fiscella said participating in the gallery was important for him because it dispels some of the misconceptions people have about veterans.

"(People) think they know us just by looking at us, and there are so many levels to us," he said. "This gives us an opportunity to show those (levels)."

Nick Kundert, MU Senior

A student veteran, Nick Kundert helped organize the Veterans Week exhibit by recruiting artists.

He submitted his own piece, "The Marine," a mask he said represents every Marine.

"The image of a Marine is always famous, and I just wanted to portray that and have it on the wall to the best of my ability," Kundert said. 

He said the event was important because art is one of many outlets for Marines when they come back from service. Kundert said the gallery is a way to show veterans' capabilities.

"We're proud of what we do and that brotherhood, that bond that we have is like no other," he said.

Aaron Schaal, MU Senior

On the night of his last patrol in Iraq, Aaron Schaal led a fire team about four miles from his base.

In the black of night, he shot off an illumination round that lit up the sky.

"It was so bright and so brilliant that it burned itself into my mind and I had to draw it," he said.

The drawing, which Schaal aptly titled "The Last Patrol," shows troops scattered on a shadowy hill, gazing at the starburst in the sky whose light turns the landscape white.

Schaal contributed three drawings to the gallery, two of which were based on photographs he had seen. His piece "In the Trenches" shows soldiers in a sunken line at eye-level with the ground.

"It wasn't just a pretty picture," Schaal said of the image. "It was a real picture, a brave picture."

He said the MU Veterans Center offered him a community with which to swap stories, among other things.

"You come back (from war) and nobody understands anything until you find a good group of veterans who you can relate to," Schaal said.

Dan Forsyth, MU Sophomore

In one corner of the exhibit, two photographs hang under a spotlight — "Oregon Beach" and "Salt Lake Perspective 2." They don't share the themes of war with some of the other artwork, but rather capture natural landscapes.

At 61, Forsyth has returned to school to get a degree in art. He served on a vessel patrol squadron in the Vietnam Era and began studying photography in 1975. Under the G.I. Bill, he went to school in St. Louis.

"Veterans Day this year has been more special than before because I'm a student here, number one," Forsyth said. "Number two, I've noticed more appreciation from people."

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