Highly decorated

National Veterans Creative Art Festival

Vietnam veteran James Wilson at work on a new art piece.

Vietnam veteran James Wilson at work on a new art piece.

Photo By Rachel Gattuso

A public reception for the National Veterans Creative Art Festival will be at the Grand Sierra Resort, 2500 E. Second St., on Oct. 27 at noon. Tickets are free but limited. For reservations, call 328-1411.

James Wilson is not the man you automatically envision clutching a watercolor brush. A Vietnam veteran, Wilson is classified as 100 percent disabled. His neatly coiffed silver hair brings to mind tucked bed sheets, and the pride in his voice evokes memories of small town Independence Day parades. As he navigates his motorized wheelchair around the Veteran Affairs (VA) Sierra Nevada Health Care System in downtown Reno, it’s clear Wilson has bled more for country than for canvas.

But he will be adding one more decoration to a collection already bolstering Bronze Stars, a Cross of Gallantry and a Purple Heart: a first place win in Craft Coloring in the 2013 National Veterans Creative Art Festival.

Presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion Auxiliary and hosted in Reno this year by the Grand Sierra Resort, the festival will showcase winning entries from veterans across the nation who participated in a year-long fine arts and talent competition. Beginning Oct. 21, 130 participants will attend a week of workshops and events before exhibiting their work in almost 150 categories in a public show October 27.

Artists will accompany their work Oct. 27 at the public display from noon to 1:45 p.m. in the Grand Sierra Resort Tahoe Ballroom. The final variety show of musical, dance, dramatic and original writing selections will begin at 2 p.m. in the Grand Sierra Resort Grand Theatre with Grammy Award Nominee and singer/songwriter Michael Peterson as Master of Ceremonies.

For Wilson, “Ruby,” his Craft Coloring entry, is a reminder of his California upbringing; a time of slopping hogs, milking cows and bartering apricots on his grandfather’s farm.

“It was a nice project to work on and I’m very proud of it,” says Wilson. “It makes me feel relaxed inside. People say it’s beautiful and this and that, but to me in my own eyes it’s nice, because the only thing I call beautiful is my wife.”

For Wilson, it was an opportunity to enjoy the process and lose track of time. For Guiseppe Pellicano, winner of the Best in Show entry “The Grenade Series,” it was an opportunity to come to terms with his experiences and share his work with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Pellicano crafted an over-sized grenade replica from steel then photographed it in nine everyday scenarios, three of which will be on display: “Oh Happy Day,” “Ranger’s Creed,” and “Tea Time.”

“My work stems from my experiences as a soldier,” Pellicano says. “I share many concerns veterans have about society, politics and psychological distress. For many of my brave brothers and sisters, the war still exists and their struggles remain. Their stories should be told so that the majority may understand the military experience.”

Pellicano’s photographs show in plain terms just how close to the surface veterans’ memories linger, present during both intense and innocent moments of every-day life. As he describes, the photos are designed to represent emotions, practices and events that may take place as soldiers settle back into home life.

“While this innocent and positive play time occurs [veterans] may be there in body but in mind still reflecting on the trauma and experiences endured,” says Pellicano. “Hopefully veteran artwork can communicate the human condition and convey an understanding throughout.”