First Lady of New York visits VA Hospital to view veterans’ artwork

The First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray paid a visit to the VA Hospital at Fort Hamilton Army Base on Thursday, March 19 for a tour of the facility’s “Portraits of a Veteran,” a two-year-old gallery consisting of art created by army veterans whose subject is other veterans. McCray was joined by Veterans’ Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton to view the personal and well-crafted work.

“We’re going to give you a little sample of the extraordinary and complex work that the participants of the veterans support center create and are producing,” Beryl Brenner, Veterans Affairs creative arts therapist told McCray. “It’s real art that you’re looking at and the way it should be made.” The gallery is part of the hospital’s Recreational Art Therapy Program.

The veteran artists in the program experiment in a variety of materials, such as paint, collage and clay. However, the day’s tour focused on photographic portraits of veterans that explored personal identity.

“When you put on a uniform, your personal identity gets lost,” said Brenner. “You get put in a box or you’re stereotyped. These are real people. Each one has different personal identity.”

With the project, a veteran was partnered with another veteran who talked about how he or she wanted to be perceived and presented.

Once McCray took the tour of gallery, she met each of the veterans that were featured in a picture, thanking them for their service and congratulating them on their impressive artistic endeavors. The artists were grateful for the response and thanked McCray for all the work she has done for various communities.

“(The art) was produced from the heart and spirit,” Brenner added. “I’m proud to say that our veteran artists have shown their work in numerous prestigious museums and galleries. It proves once again the American veteran is capable of doing such amazing things.

“Each subject is a multi-faceted one that requires great deal of thought and analysis. These are not simple images to produce. I work them very hard but they deliver,” she said.

McCray and Sutton were presented with gifts, including floral art designed by veterans, which they were very thankful to receive.

“It’s quality stuff. Their work speaks for itself. I’d put it in any museum in earth,” added Brenner. “I’ve spent my life in that world and they hold their own with anybody.”

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