What Happened When a Marine, a Ranger, and an Artist
Took On This Pile of Scrap ?
THE WARRIOR STORYFIELD
If I’d have seen the dragon coming, I’d have ducked for cover long before it breathed fire up and down my back. But I didn’t see it coming because I was focused on building a big rooster in the solitude of my metal shop.
Back in 2013 I had been commissioned by the owner of a grocery store in Colorado to produce a sculpture that would represent community and food. It was meant to be a symbol of the gathering place he envisioned for his store. What came to mind was a 8-foot-tall rooster made from worn out farm implements rusting in the fields of local farmers.
It was a tall order (and a heavy one too—the old boy would weigh in at 2 tons when it was all said and done) but I was happily pounding and welding away at it when the Marine and an Army Ranger stopped by to say hello.
“Hey,” the Marine, Brad Gallup said, “can we help you build that rooster?” The Ranger nodded.
“Yeah,” I said, “get some gloves on, let’s go.”
I couldn’t believe what just came out of my mouth. I had imagined myself a solo operation—the lone artist basking in the creative fire and protect by the walls of my shop. When these asked to join in, none of that mattered. I just welcomed them in. I didn’t know it then, but that decision that would forever change my life.
Over the next nine months, the three of us sculpted Alfie the rooster transforming hundreds of plow sweeps, plow points, sickle guards and other farm implements into skin, talons and ruffled feathers. We heated and pounded and welded. One held a part with long pliers while another laid down a rod and fused one piece of metal to another. We became a tight team, able to communicate with just a few words, a nod and grunt or a subtle finger point.
The Wake Up
In the midst of having a great time making art together, I was slowly waking up to my personal experience of war. You see, I had been just a bystander in the wars our country had fought. Sure, I was concerned about our perpetual wars and even more so by the trauma that follows in their wake. But I was also strangely detached. I was busy pursuing my own small but amazingly safe world. For me, war was over there, not here.
In the presence of these two warriors, I came to realize the war had been going on inside of me all along. I just hadn’t realized it. Yeah, I was a bystander, but the wars had still been mine. These two warriors and so many others had fought them, but as a citizen I carried a responibility for sending them there. That was a real eye opener.
Being a bystander was no longer an option. I had to do something. I wanted to contribute in some way to the coming home and reintegration of our combat veterans, but how?
Fabricating that rooster gave me a glimpse of what was possible. Through my work with Brad and Danny, and through our conversations—both casual and serious—I began to sense that something of value was passing between us. Some kind of alchemy was happening, giving rise to a mysterious something I can only describe as a field of expression—a place in between where a civilian like me and veterans like them could come and be together.
We built a rooster, that’s for sure, but we also slipped into many conversations. Some of these touched on ghosts and demons, others on dreams. Still others touched on grief and memories and the humor they had used to normalize their experience.
There were a few brief words about combat. As a civilian I had always avoided asking veterans about combat. Not because I wasn’t interested, but because I had no idea how to enter that world.Was it my place to ask about their personal experiences of war? Isn’t that a private world, open only to those who had shared the battlefield? What right did I, a civilian, have to inquire about that hallowed ground?
I had been mystified by these questions before Danny and Brad knocked on my door. As we made art together, a natural opening occurred. As I offered an opening into the art of sculpture they offered me an opening into the art of listening to their deeper story. I came to realize that many combat veterans don’t talk about their experience because just like me, their civilian friends and even close family don’t feel comfortable asking. And, when they do ask, it’s difficult to know how to listen.
Well, we got Alfie set up in front of the grocery store. Quite a few of the local farmers who gave parts showed up for the ceremony. I really loved the way those guys who grow the food we live on provided the pieces of Alfie’s metal body.
Soon after that, Brad and Danny approached me. Danny said, “What’s next?”
He had asked that as a question, but I received it as a command. It felt as if he was calling to me as a member of his squad. That alone was and incredible honor. Within that question/command he and Brad were both telling me that returning warriors need a place to come. They need to pound on red hot metal and cause sparks to fly in a zone they can control. They were telling me they need a field of expression. They need a place to meet and be seen and heard. They need a place to share their wisdom with those who they had protected. This place did not exist.
Thats a tall order. What does that mean? What does it look like? How do we start?
Those questions planted the seed that has now grown into a dragon standing 16-feet-tall and dominating the shop. Our small team of veterans and civilians is fabricating it. More importantly, it is beginning to fabricate us!
The dragon’s companion, a phoenix, is rising up next to it. The two represent the duality of existence, the polarity of the veteran’s journey to become a warrior, and his or her journey to come home.We believe that both sides need one another. Our vision is to work with the tension between these two powerful symbols as a creative element, as a field of expression where we can share our deeper stories.
That place in between is the Storyfield, were something beyond words may find its voice. I don’t know exactly what will happen there, but I hope it will be something like what happens at the shop.
We talk. We sit in silence. We consider the dragon and the phoenix. We sketch possibilities on a metal table. Are they staring each other down? About to get in a fight? Or are they warming up to dance? Are they living in a duality of right and wrong? Or is there a third possibility waiting to emerge?
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