Pandora-Gilboa High School art students gather with local veterans. An exhibit of their work will be on display on Veterans Day, Monday Nov. 11 at the school. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)
Pandora-Gilboa High School art students gather with the work they created following intimate conversations with local veterans. An exhibit of their work will be on display on Veterans Day, Monday Nov. 11 at the school. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

PANDORA — The goal of most art, and the artists who create it, is to elicit a response, engender an emotion. For eighteen students in Ali Verhoff’s art classes at Pandora-Gilboa High School, that emotion came front-loaded. Celebrating the sacrifices of this nation’s military men and women, the budding artists took their inspiration from local veterans.

Recreating a project she oversaw at Miller City-New Cleveland High School, where she taught until moving to P-G in the fall of 2018, Mrs. Verhoff connected her students with local veterans who shared, at least to some degree, their personal experiences and beliefs. The young men and women then took those interviews, and the emotions they elicited, and wove them into the tapestries of their art: paintings done in watercolor, oil, and acrylic; collages of paper and wood; and intricate textile sculptures.

The project offered multiple opportunities for the youth. Lessons in art, certainly, bringing with them a greater understanding of light and shadow, of form and perspective, of the interactions of color and texture. But what could well prove more lasting, have left the most indelible impression was the straight-forward, yet incredibly complex interaction of individuals, the sharing of backgrounds and experiences.

For some, the veteran or the family of the veteran they interviewed was well and intimately known. For Taryn Scott, he was a family member — her grandfather — and the interaction offered new insights into a known, trusted, and loved figure. “It was really nice getting to know his past, and all the adventures he had serving,” Ms. Scott said.

“I got closer to this family,” Walker Matthew offered. “I’m actually close with them already, but got closer to them just being able to talk with them about their son. It was generous of them to share his story, and I really appreciate all they did for us.”

For others, though the individuals or families were familiar — this is, after all, the small and tightly knit community of Putnam County — there were no close, immediate ties, allowing for a different kind of communication to arise and new relationships to develop.

“I got kind of a friend,” Sydney Norton said. “My veteran was super nice, and every time I see him — I saw him back when football season was still going — I’d say, ‘Hi, Lenny.’ He’s, like, super cool.”

At the same time, the interviews offered the veterans teaching opportunities. While most veterans are notoriously tight-lipped about their experiences, the discussions in some cases occasionally opened up.

“I learned a lot from my veteran,” Lexie Neuenschwander said. “You hear stories on the news about what happened, but to hear it from someone one-on-one and personally was really affecting. I learned how to respect veterans. Just going up and thanking them and showing them respect means a lot to them because they did a lot to earn the title.”

Though each experience was different, the students expressed one universal: the raw emotion exhibited during their conversations, and surviving well after.

In describing her experience with the family of a fallen soldier, Caran Carrillo, said, “To hear the intimate details of it and the rawness of their emotions and how they felt about their son who they loved so dearly, it hurt. It was brutal to hear about and everyone in the room was in tears. It was something I needed to hear at the time. It was something I’m so glad I had to sit through. It was such an experience. It was so beautiful, but so tragic. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

On Monday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day, the work arising from these interviews, these experiences will be on display in the hallway of Pandora-Gilboa Schools. The veterans who participated were — and are — invited to attend a special viewing of the art before the doors are opened for a public exhibit and program at 10 a.m.