Across the uniform

The David J. Drakulich Art Foundation

Photo/Anna Hart

Combat Paper: Service Through Art is at the Northwest Reno Library, 2325 Robb Drive,through Aug. 15.
The Northern Nevada Veterans' writing project reading is from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 21 at Washoe County Senior Services, 1155 E. Ninth St.
JoAnn Meacham, Tina Drakulich and Luana Ritch at the Combat Paper display in the Northwest Reno Library.

The David J. Drakulich Art Foundation for Freedom of Expression uses art to serve those who have served. Around 2008, Tina and Joseph Drakulich established the foundation in honor of their son, Sgt. David J. Drakulich.

David was an artistic 16-year-old living in Reno when the terrorist attacks occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. Feeling that his freedom was on the line, David chose to stop painting and to start running, in order to prepare to enlist in the military.

After four years of service and a Bronze Star, David was set to return home in May 2008, hoping to attend art school once he was discharged. However, he was killed in action in Afghanistan in January of that year.

Since then, David’s parents have headed the foundation in his memory, with the mission of providing arts education and experiences to veterans, service men and women, and their families.

“The art programs help veterans deal with their experience in a positive way,” said Lt. Col. JoAnn Meacham of the Nevada Air National Guard. “I see it as reconciling my combat experiences with normal life to become a positive, productive part of me, instead of letting it deteriorate into a disorder. It fills a gap that the VA or the military might not be able to fill.”

Through the foundation’s various creative outlets and partnerships, such as the Northern Nevada Veteran’s Writing Project and Veteran’s Art Project, the military community and their families have the opportunity to share their anecdotes.

“At some point, we realized that recording each veteran’s story was important because the general population doesn’t always understand,” says Tina Drakulich, David’s mother. “We want to encourage veterans to share their story.”

One of their biggest focuses is their Combat Paper project, affiliated with a larger organization based in San Francisco. The project encourages veterans to cut up their service uniforms and transform them into paper, a versatile medium for artistic expression.

“It goes against your military mind to cut up your uniform,” said Luana Ritch, a U.S. Army veteran. “It’s so symbolic. The idea of cutting it up can be hard to overcome. … But creating something new from it that’s beautiful, poignant and symbolic of the experience can be transformative for the healing process.”

In the Northwest Reno Library, an exhibition of some of the Combat Paper works created through the foundation runs until Aug. 15. Paper works range from a handmade book, to hundreds of paper cranes, to recreations of American flags line a small corridor.

Along with the exhibition, the foundation is putting on several events in conjunction with Artown. Participants can learn paper making techniques, fold cranes to be included in a future installation, or sit in on a creative writing and poetry reading.

The efforts of the foundation are to provide a channel for artistic release for those impacted by and serving in the military, but the group also seeks to complete another goal: putting a human face to the reality of military service.

The David J. Drakulich foundation seeks to cultivate a link between service members and civilians, and to show a different image of the American soldier, one that transcends political agendas and sensationalized headlines and underscores the true cost of war.

“The real truth is that every person who serves sacrifices,” says Meacham. “These men and women are putting their lives on hold, kids are living without mom or dad because we, as a nation have asked them to serve. Don’t we have a duty as citizens to understand them?”