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Steel Spirit art exhibition introduces 15 military artists

Paintings and sculptures won’t stop missiles. But art is still a powerful tool that members of the military use to express moods, emotions, and a variety of other psychological states.

Paintings and sculptures won’t stop missiles. But art is still a powerful tool that members of the military use to express moods, emotions, and a variety of other psychological states. Through the power of art, soldiers and first responders share their life with civilians far removed from the casualties of their job. 

The inaugural St. Albert Steel Spirit, an exclusive art exhibition of 15 military personnel, veterans and first responders’ artistic submissions, will run Oct. 30 to Nov. 11 at St. Albert Place lobby. The exhibition will vary from paintings, sculptures and metal art to mixed media, fibre art, poems and more. 

The Steel Spirit was originally founded in Ontario in 2017 to give men and women in uniform a platform for their art. Submissions ranged from professional artists to those with little or no prior experience. 

Local Steel Spirit organizer, former CAF image tech, and fine arts painter Elena Vlassova has worked selflessly for months to bring the art show to fruition. 

“I want to showcase the stories our soldiers would like to express. I want people to see through the eyes of soldiers. They create different art in different styles in different ways. I want people to see their experiences in the service and how they see the world,” Vlassova said. 

Al Henderson, a figurative artist and sculptor, is a contributor. Henderson currently creates many public works of art. But back in the 1990s Henderson served in the Light Horse Infantry as a reservist and was posted overseas to Cyprus and Yugoslavia on peacekeeping missions. 

He is contributing three individual projects including a drawing on paper of a soldier from his time in Croatia. In addition, he presents the Two Joes, a series of sculptures that create short moments in storytelling and computer-generated art, a departure from his signature classical forms.  

“In the military everything is amplified, and friendships are lifelong. You are put under pressure and you have to come up to the bar. You have to meet certain expectations and show what you can do. I love being creative and the military brought that out,” Henderson said. 

Another St. Albert military artist to surrender three works of art is Dan Houghton, a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force posted to 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron Edmonton. Originally, Houghton joined the military in 2004 as a naval electronic sensor operator. 

After his three-year commitment ended, he went to Saskatoon and married Christine, his main muse. But after missing the structure and camaraderie of military life, in 2009 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was posted to 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron Edmonton as an aviation technician. His overseas missions have included postings in Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali. 

Houghton is showing three pieces of art created as gifts for Christine: a tree of life constructed from wire and satin leaves; a stained-glass willow tree, and the Welcome Home wire sculpture of two people kissing. 

“It represents the first moment you arrive home after being gone so long and you get that first kiss, and feel you can actually rest,” said Houghton.  

He notes many military artists use art as an avenue to deal with high-pressure careers. 

“People are expressive by nature, and they have the need to create, and our jobs don’t address that. It’s an escape, a place you can let go of the world. You lose track of time, and you have a break from stress. After a session of art, you feel exhausted, but refreshed at the same time.” 

The public is invited to a reception to meet and greet the artists on Saturday, Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to noon.

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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