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Army veteran designs new beer cans for Rock Bridge Brewing Co.

Thursday, January 9, 2014 | 5:36 p.m. CST; updated 11:15 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 9, 2014
Curtis Bean displays his art at the BLACKOUT art show in Denver in September. Bean has created the artwork for the can design of two Rock Bridge Brewing Co. beers.

COLUMBIA — When Curtis Bean exhausted the traditional methods for coping with post-traumatic stress disorder after coming back from Iraq, he found artistic inspiration in a quote from the book "American Psycho."

"You can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable ... I simply am not there."

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That is part of the Bret Easton Ellis quote he used as the background of his first artwork: a painting of a man screaming.

Bean, an Army veteran, has moved on to some lighter subjects since then. He recently completed the artwork for the cans of two Rock Bridge Brewing Co. beers. The new cans will be introduced in late February.

After returning in 2007 from his second tour in Iraq as a sniper for the Army, Bean found himself struggling with PTSD.

"I didn't know how to deal with it," he said. "I went into inpatient care and was looking for other ways to help."

In 2010 while living in Florida, he picked up a paintbrush to see how his thoughts translated onto paper.

"It turned out really well," he said, "and some people even asked me to make paintings for them."

About a year ago while studying fine arts at the University of Colorado in Denver, he came to believe that art could be therapeutic for all veterans with PTSD, which prompted him to create a class that he now teaches called Art of War. He's found it to be a good way to escape from troubling thoughts and not think about anything except what is in front of him.

The class is part of a seven-week PTSD recovery program at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Denver, but he offers additional classes that are open to all veterans in the community. The classes offer instructional demonstrations and provide art supplies for veterans.

"Art can be challenging," he said, "but there are simple things that can be very therapeutic."

For example, clay is good to work with because it's a fairly forgiving medium and lets the budding artist get his hands dirty, he said.

Chief Beer Guy Stu Burkemper — that's actually his official title — of Rock Bridge Brewing Co. has kept in touch with Bean since they went to high school together. Burkemper wanted to collaborate with him after seeing some artwork he posted on his Facebook page.

"We wanted to raise awareness of what he's doing," Burkemper said, "and he already had artwork done that I really liked."

The brewery plans to sell T-shirts, hats and other gear from Art of War to raise money for the class and raise awareness about PTSD, and the cans will have a note that attributes the artwork to Bean.

Bean's new "canvas" was made possible when the brewery's president and founder, Dave Brouder, decided to can — instead of bottle — the Rye IPA and Saison now that technology in cans has improved.

"There is a special coating on it that doesn't make the beer taste like aluminum like it used to," he said.

The new cans won't be the only change in 2014. The brewery will relocate to a new facility on Prathersville Road in north Columbia on March 1. Brouder said the new location will be much bigger and have new equipment. There are plans to add a tasting room and offer tours on Saturdays.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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