Veterans pour their hearts into Fort Meade art show

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FORT MEADE, S.D. - Veterans opened up their hearts through the arts.

VA Black Hills Health Care System (BHHCS) announced the first wave of winners of the 2018 Veterans' Creative Arts Competition at their Fort Meade facility on Wednesday.

Artistic GI's poured their soul into many mediums. Some created sculptures and oil paintings, while others expressed their creativity through written works and dances. South Dakota culture and military experience showed up as recurring themes in the artwork.

Recreation Therapist Mike Ellis said that it wasn't what they created that mattered - it was why they created.

"Some of these guys have had, you know, a lot of traumatic experiences," Ellis said. "Art is a great medium - a great way for them to express themselves and also work through some of the issues that they may have."

Judges evaluated hundreds of entries on their creativity, originality and overall presentation. The panel sorted through 51 categories of visual art and 100 categories of performance art, eventually choosing 33 winning pieces among 15 artists.

BHHCS held a poll during the viewing for the public to choose the People's Choice award. Viewers chose sculptor Allen Eckman for his sculpture depicting a Native American grass dancer.

Eckman spoke broadly about the recognition being given to both the names of the veteran artists and their hidden talents.

"You don't think about Marines as being someone who's sensitive," Eckman said. "This art is very, very, very good. And everyone who entered a piece did an excellent job - doesn't matter what category."

Select winners will be invited to compete at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

The next group of winners will be announced at the Hot Springs VA showing on March 14.

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