Arizona

Helping veterans heal through art in Boulder County

November 11 was Veterans Day, a federal holiday honoring military veterans of the United States Armed Forces.

Many combat veterans are still struggling with the trauma of their wartime experiences.

A major sculpting project is taking shape in Boulder County that will help veterans heal through art.

Sculptor Robert Bellows is in his garden cheering on a newcomer learning how to hammer a metal spring onto an anvil.

“This is eighth of an inch steel that we’re making a tail feather out of, and my goodness, there’ll probably be a thousand or fifteen hundred of those feathers on it. So that’s a lot of feathers,” he said.

    A metal phoenix that stands nearly 20 feet tall is made of 8-inch steel.

A metal phoenix that stands nearly 20 feet tall is made of 8-inch steel.

The feathers are welded to a metal phoenix that rises nearly twenty feet from the anvil.

The phoenix faces an equally large metal dragon standing a few feet away with wings spread wide.

This is the Warrior Storyfield project.

Veteran Bob Lecy is one of the artists working here today.

“What we have is really three sculptures, one is a dragon representing the war narrative, the war experience and a phoenix bird with the transformation. And then the space in between is really the most important part,” Lecy said.

Lecy was a medic with the 4th Infantry in the Vietnam War.

For him, this space between the dragon and the phoenix represents a difficult choice veterans must make when returning home.

“There is a choice to be made and the choice is whether I continue to let the war narrative control my life or risk turning to transformation and the unknown?”

The dragon sculpture represents the war experience.  The phoenix sculpture represents transformation.

The dragon sculpture represents the war experience. The phoenix sculpture represents transformation.

Lecy says it took him over forty years to come to terms with that decision.

“I think one of the hardest things for people to understand, even for the veteran and family, is that war changes us. And when we come home, the person who went to war is not the person who comes home. This person is gone. And understanding that sea change is the hardest part for the veteran and for society,” he said.

Artist Robert Bellows is about the same age as Bob Lecy, but he did not serve in Vietnam.

The draft system then was a lottery, those with low numbers were drafted first and Bellows got a high number.

“And at that time I just closed myself off from the war. It was like ‘phew, I don’t have to do that.’ And like so many civilians, I stopped paying attention to those who went into battle. And there’s a certain embarrassment in that,” he said.

Thirty years later, a couple of Vietnam veterans came to Bellows Metal Shop and asked if they could help him with a sculpture he was working on at the time.

This collaboration eventually led to this project.

    Sculptor Robert Bellows estimates it will take another three to five years to complete the dragon and phoenix sculptures.

Sculptor Robert Bellows estimates it will take another three to five years to complete the dragon and phoenix sculptures.

They’ve been around for almost a decade, working outside of Bellow’s home in rural Boulder County.

He estimates that 50 or 60 people, veterans and non-veterans alike, have dedicated serious volunteer time to the project.

There is a core group of eight or nine people, including Bob Lecy and Andy Morris, a Vietnam veteran and retired military officer.

“I don’t claim to be an artist, but I enjoy making fun of Robert and asking things like, ‘Is that quill bent exactly the way you want it?'”

Morris and his son built an eight-foot forge on the property to help manufacture some of the largest metal springs.

It’s a place where I can work with my hands, which I find very comforting, if that’s the right word for it,” Morris said.

“I just think it’s a great project. I just hope we can find a place to put it when it’s all done. God knows when that will be.”

Sculptor Robert Bellows estimates that the sculptures will take another three to five years to complete.

Then they hope to place it somewhere in a large park so it will be a peaceful gathering place for the community and a place that can help veterans recover.

My hope is that the storyfield will save other veterans twenty or thirty years of struggle and pain trying to heal from their wartime experiences. And when that happens, I feel like we and I have done a great service,” Lecy said.

This KGNU story was shared with Aspen Public Radio through Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, including Aspen Public Radio.

Copyright 2022 Aspen Public Radio. To see more, visit Aspen Public Radio.

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