by Stephanie Hertzenberg
Too often, veterans find themselves pigeon-holed. They are seen purely as soldiers and protectors, but, while that is undoubtedly a part of who they are, many of them also possess a creative side. There are many veterans who enjoyed painting or carving prior to their deployment or took up jewelry making when they returned. But where would they sell the pieces they create? Is there a place for veterans to showcase their wares and start a following?
That’s exactly what former Navy SEAL Rusty Noesner has created with War Paints. War Paints is an online social market place where veterans and first responders can display and sell their creative works. “We’ve got about twelve folks, including Army, Marines, Navy, National Guard, Airforce and a Firefighter,” Rusty said. “There’s sixteen people on it total, but a few haven’t uploaded or priced their products yet.” These products range from paintings and photographs to paracord bracelets and homemade dog care products. “War Paints is about empowering veterans to create. We’re looking to open the doors to whatever interests veterans have,” said Rusty.
The next step for War Paints is to create a physical location in addition to the website, WarPaints.org. “We want to create a brick and mortar gallery where we will display artwork from veterans all over,” Rusty said. “It won’t just be a place to show artwork, but a place where veterans can work. Veterans can come in, practice their craft, participate in classes and share their ideas and inspirations with others. I like to call it the tangible manifestation of the website.”
The website, WarPaints.org, is open for anyone to make purchases or donations, and Rusty urges people to spread the word. “Make your friends and family aware of it and tell veterans and first responders to join the website and showcase their products.”
“No one has done this yet, especially on this scale. No one has said ‘Hey, if you’ve served in any capacity, we are going to help you showcase and sell your creative products. War Paints will fuel that and get people interested in your work.’”
Any veteran or first responder who has served is welcome to set up a profile on the website. Rusty is proud to point out how unique this is. “No one has done this yet, especially on this scale. No one has said ‘Hey, if you’ve served in any capacity, we are going to help you showcase and sell your creative products. War Paints will fuel that and get people interested in your work.’ That kind of support and teamwork is incredible.”
War Paints gives creative servicemen and servicewomen a tangible sort of support as well. The money from a purchase on War Paints goes directly into the service member’s account, providing the veteran both the funds to continue their creative works and the motivation to continue putting their pieces out for the public to purchase.
The creations themselves are as unique as War Paint’s structure. Each piece is handmade and influenced by the veteran’s or first responder’s experiences. “We are seeing a whole new aspect to artwork,” Rusty said. “We’ve been at war for a long time, and as a society, we have been deprived of an opportunity to see artwork coming from those who continually experience adverse situations. And they’ve often been denied the opportunity to show what they can do outside the scope of soldiering and police work.”
Rusty hopes the program will continue to grow and become more established in the community. “We can’t move forward until foundational roots take hold.” There is a potential studio location for War Paints in downtown Harrisonburg, but the construction or acquisition of a permanent, physical gallery is likely one to two years away.
Once the studio is in place, Rusty has plans to involve the local community further. “We’ll be asking for volunteers to help and teach. So if you know an art teacher, have them come and give a class. It doesn’t just have to be traditional art, it can be a wide variety of creative disciplines.”
Indeed, the entire point is to revive and nurture the creative side of those who serve and showcase those abilities to the larger community. Regardless of whether the veteran is drawing with charcoal or welding metal, Rusty hopes War Paints will bring balance back into the lives of veterans and first responders. “I’m tired of seeing veterans and servicemen shed in a particular light. We have a much larger spectrum that people never see, and I think promoting that is just the right way to balance ourselves and say ‘I’m a protector and a soldier, but I am also a multitalented and multi-disciplined human being. I can be a renaissance man or woman.’”
War Paints is still a relatively young organization, but it has already begun to gain a solid foothold in the Shenandoah Valley. Several vendors sold their wares at the K9’s For Warriors Adventure Race in June, and Rusty has been outspoken about the benefits of creative work for veterans and first responders. “No matter branch of service, politics or experience level, War Paints is for everyone,” Rusty said firmly. Hopefully, his vision will soon take physical form in the valley and have a gallery to showcase the works of those who protect, serve and create.
Stephanie Hertzenberg is a year-long intern with Valley Living. She also works part-time for the Shine children’s Sunday school curriculum and interns at WMRA.
Visit War Paints online at www.WarPaints.org to purchase creative works and browse vendor profiles. You can also read about new vendors and get sneak peeks at new pieces on War Paints’ Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/WARPAINTS.ORG.
To set up a profile as a veteran or first responder, click the “register” button in the top right hand corner of the homepage, www.WarPaints.org. On some systems, the registration button will appear as a pen-and-paper icon. After you complete the short form provided, a request for access will be automatically sent to Rusty Noesner where the request will be recorded and cleared.