Every day across the United States, roughly 22 veterans commit suicide.
In response, local veterans are turning to their art to help others going through similar struggles.
Between paintings, metal work, wood carving, miniatures, poetry and more, dozens of different works are on display at the Peoria Public Library.
The works a collection from 22 different veteran-artists, representing the same number of veterans who take their lives daily.
“If 22 kids caught the Zika virus today, the Centers for Disease Control would call it an epidemic,” explained Michael Ragan, founder of the project. “If 22 veterans kill themselves today, it kinda doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of…you know…help.”
Artists from all across the Heart of Illinois contributed their time and talent to put the displays together, in turn showing their own hearts and hurts.
“Each piece of art always has a story,” said retired Petty Officer First Class Jeff Embry, who carved duck and goose calls. “With a veteran sometimes it’s a unique story, and some of the pains and sufferings and some of the trials that they’ve gone through.”
One of the artists, Stormy Monday, has gone across the country with his paintings.
For him, satisfaction comes from watching reactions – especially from veterans.
“This room is filled with that. With nightmares, memories, things that’s happened in the past,” he said. “If you walk painting to painting, picture to picture, object to object…you’ll see a lot of different scenarios.”
Ragan wanted to make sure the gallery wasn’t just paintings.
Included in the various works are goose calls, driftwood carvings and duck decoys made from 100-year-old reclaimed wood.
“I feel obligated to help my fellow vets,” said Michael Bush, a writer and carpenter out of Pekin. “If anyone deserves some breaks in life, it’s a veteran.”
Every vet’s display shares a common goal: helping their fellow veterans cope, and to not lose another one to suicide.
“I like to think that we can make something beautiful out of something that really isn’t. So with me, there’s beauty in everything,” said Ragan. “You’ve just got to really struggle with it sometimes. This is a safe way to express yourself. Get it out of your system, bring whatever darkness you have in you out to the light. And maybe it’ll help someone else.”
The gallery is on display in the lower level of the Peoria Public Library’s downtown branch.
It will be available through January 30th, with an open art show on Saturday, January 12th at 1:00PM.