Healing Wall Puzzle Unveiled in Vienna

Healing Wall Puzzle Unveiled in Vienna

Vienna Arts Society exhibits art work from soldiers suffering from PTSD.

Artist Shari MacFarlane stands in front of the Healing Wall Puzzle painted by soldiers who suffer from PTSD.

Artist Shari MacFarlane stands in front of the Healing Wall Puzzle painted by soldiers who suffer from PTSD. Photo by Steve Hibbard.

The Vienna Arts Society hosted a "Puzzled Again" reception on Saturday, July 11 at the Vienna Art Center with an exhibit of the Healing Wall puzzle. The artwork is from 24 soldiers on the mend at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The original puzzle, from 2014, was also exhibited, and the artwork will be on display through July 31 at 115 Pleasant Street, NW, Vienna.


From left: Dore Skidmore, president of the Vienna Arts Society; Shari MacFarlane, artist; Terry Svat, artist; and Lu Elizabeth Cousins, Art Center director.

During May and June for five sessions, five staff members from the Vienna Arts Society worked with soldiers at Fort Belvoir, helping them to translate their feelings into a visual expression on 12-inch puzzle pieces that were painted with black backgrounds. The artists provided paints and brushes and showed the soldiers different techniques to help motivate them in expressing themselves visually.

Art Center Director Lu Elizabeth Cousins, who calls the center the heartbeat of the art community in Northern Virginia, said the artists gave everything from their hearts to this project -- paint supplies and their time. She said their first effort was last year and they wanted to repeat it again this year. "You can see the raw emotion of these pieces ... the fact that each individual piece is a piece of a puzzle and part of a much bigger picture," she said.

Shari MacFarlane, an artist with the Vienna Arts Society, one of 200 member artists, said the puzzle project is a good one because it shows how all the soldiers are connected. "Whatever affects one person or thing affects all," she said. "Art is specifically a human activity. It shows our basic humanity ... I love the collaborative idea of everyone working together to create art." She said that her father suffered from PTSD from World War II but it was undiagnosed at the time.

Terry Svat, a retired art therapist and artist, said the soldiers, who painted everything from cute stuff to very serious stuff, had so much fun doing it. "I think people have to understand how much power there is in art," she said. "The beauty is they don't look at it as power. They let go of a lot of their feelings in a way that's acceptable."

To learn more about the Vienna Arts Society and its classes and community outreach programs, visit www.viennaartssociety.org. The Vienna Art Center is located at 115 Pleasant Street NW, around the corner from Maple Avenue.