When a local chapter of the Society of Decorative Painters began to review their supply of brushes and discard those with worn bristles, one of its members Mike Tate, physician assistant at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, remarked that not all painters are so fortunate. “The brushes being thrown out are in better condition than the brushes our Veterans use,” said Tate. “When Mary Dunlap heard this, it was a call to action for her.”
In June 2007, Dunlap formed the Society of Decorative Painters’ Share the Love of Painting with Our Veterans, a monthly program that hosts decorative art activities for patients at the medical center. “Everything connected with the program is meant as a gift for our Veterans,” said Dunlap. “All the brushes, paints, easels and surface materials are donations. We also volunteer the time to research each specific project, prepare the art supplies and conduct classes.” Today, the program has grown to include three other volunteers, Eileen Boward, Gail Cox and Joe Shugars.
Depending on the time of year, some art activities are related to an upcoming holiday, while many other projects have patriotic themes. Past projects have included bird houses, holiday ornaments, decorative plates and fishing-themed picture frames. There are therapeutic benefits to decorative painting. “Completing a project gives Veteran artists a sense of closure that is very satisfying,” said Dawn Johns, recreation assistant, who oversees the medical center’s Hobby Shop. “Sometimes a project helps to take their mind off of a problem, while at other times helps them to work through that problem.”
Art supplies are donated by individuals across the region, including West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Washington D.C. Members of the Society of Decorative Painters and the Cumberland Valley Art Association (CVAA) have been instrumental in supplying art projects. “The CVAA has donated so much – brushes, paints, watercolor paper, colored pencils, canvases of various sizes and 12 new easels for the Hobby Shop,” said Dunlap. Donations that are not used for Share the Love of Painting with Our Veterans are given to the Hobby Shop.
To learn how you can help Veterans through donations or by volunteering, contact Voluntary Service at 304-263-0811, ext. 3309 or 3310.