The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Sign up for a class

Classes are at the Manchester VA Medical Center, 718 Smyth Road, Manchester, Mondays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.; contact Debra Krinsky by emailing or calling 624-4366, ext. 6419, to sign up

Another world
VA Medical Center offers free art programs for vets

By Kelly Sennott

 Every Monday afternoon, Amherst artist Elaine Farmer drives 30 minutes to the Manchester VA Medical Center to teach a free art class to New Hampshire veterans. When she arrives, they work on whatever they please — drawings, paintings, even coloring books. 

“She’s wonderful. She doesn’t push you in any direction you don’t want to go in. There are no rules. You do what you want to do,” said Bill Hines, a Merrimack resident who’s been a regular at Farmer’s classes.
Hines is working on colored pencil drawings of flowers, inspired by his real-life occupation in the horticultural industry. He dabbled in art in high school and attended the Vesper George School of Art a year before joining the Army and serving in Vietnam. When he learned of Farmer’s class, he jumped right in. 
“I go because I like to be involved,” said Hines, who does a lot of volunteer work and gardening in his free time. “I like to stay busy, and I like talking to people, especially veterans.”
Farmer, who served for 17 years as an Air Force wife, began volunteering at the VA Medical Center in 2014, then teaching art classes a year and a half ago. She knew it would be beneficial for veterans. For most people, art acts as an escape, an entrance into another world. As you work, everything else falls away. 
“There are a lot of programs out there to help vets, like Wounded Warrior, but none that really focus on arts and healing,” Farmer said. “The ones who have stayed with me a while now talk about it feeling meditative. Time flies by as they’re working on their project, whether it’s a landscape or seascape or a flower. … They continue to show up because they know it’s a good feeling.”
Debra Krinsky, the VA’s voluntary services officer, said she’s very happy with turnout and has set aside funds to purchase sketchbooks and pencils for newcomers, having seen firsthand the way art can empower people and cause them to see things in new ways. She remembers sitting in on a ceramics workshop when she worked for the White River Junction VA Medical Center. One vet sculpted what he imagined his cancer looked like. When it came time to glaze, Krinsky pulled him aside. 
“If you put this in the kiln, it’s going to be permanent and solid as a rock,” Krinsky said to him. “You’re fighting cancer. You may want to take this to your local lake, or the ocean, and chuck this puppy into the water so it disintegrates. Because that’s what you want to do to this cancer.” 
The man’s eyes flew wide open. And that’s what he did. 
Krinsky said via phone the VA offers lots of different clinics and workshops, but she’s still looking for more artists — or people expert in anything — to teach or perform for vets. Some vets just haven’t found their right medium yet. Hines thinks keeping busy — with art or some other hobby — is essential for vets, if just to get out of their own heads.
“By going there and having someone like Elaine help you and guide you, you can get out of all that other thinking you shouldn’t be doing. It slows your mind down,” Hines said. “I think more information has to get out to the public and to the veterans about what’s available to them. … You don’t have to be an accomplished artist to take a class. If you just want to learn, that’s why Elaine is there.”

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