Meeting of generations

An innovative art program at Parkwood Institute heals wounds and forges bonds among veterans

Group of veterans creating art
The Inter/Activity group with some of their art projects, from left, Craig Smith, Larry Williams, James McNabb, Veterans Arts instructor Kevin Curtis –Norcross, therapeutic recreation specialist Leah Taplay, Dennis Seguin, Lorne Spicer and Graham Yates (seated). 

Some of the veterans served in World War II, some in the Korean War, others in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but the years melt away when they come together to liberate the artist within in the collective and healing pursuit of creativity. 

The men are members of an intergenerational Veterans Arts group called Inter/Activity, which brings together inpatient veterans from 3 Kent-Essex at Parkwood Institute and outpatient veterans from the Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Clinic. Working together they develop and create a wide variety of art projects.

The sessions begin with conversation, then the mud begins to fly— or at least it did when the group was elbow deep in liquid clay excavated from the site of the new Parkwood Institute Mental Health Care Building. The group filtered and processed the clay, then imprinted it with natural objects such as pine cones and ferns (see photo). Other original art projects include a copper enamel mosaic project the group exhibited at London Central Library. 

Inter/Activity is a joint venture with Veterans Arts and Therapeutic Recreation at Parkwood Institute.

“Through sharing experiences and working together on a common creative challenge the participants synergistically bond and help each other,” says Veterans Arts instructor Kevin Curtis Norcross. 

“It’s rewarding to see veterans from such varied age groups interacting, forming relationships and becoming fast friends,” says therapeutic recreation specialist Leah Taplay. “With the art projects they all have a role to play and they all feel part of something meaningful.” 

clay tiles artwork
pine leaves clay art
Artwork created by the group from clay excavated from the site of the new Parkwood Institute Mental Health Care Building and imprinted with natural objects.

Lorne Spicer, 88, a navigator on Halifax bombers in World War II, says, “I’m lucky to be part of this group – they make me feel right at home. No matter their age, all veterans are proud to have helped save the world in their own way.” 

“It is an honour hearing the older veterans’ inspiring stories,” adds veteran Craig Smith, 40, who served in Kosovo. The art group, he says, is therapeutic,and relaxing, and is helping him deal with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

As an unexpected spinoff of the Inter/Activity group, two veterans from the OSI Clinic now volunteer in Veterans Arts and are looking for other opportunities to interact with others in an environment where they feel safe and welcome. 

Through sharing experiences and working together on a common creative challenge the participants synergistically bond and help each other