County Presents First Annual Veterans’ Art Exhibit

The Cape May County Division of Culture & Heritage is proud to present its First Annual Veterans’ Art Exhibit throughout the month of November. The exhibit will take place at the Division’s Thomas Beesley Jr. House in Cape May Court House. Pary Tell, Division manager, served as a key coordinator of the first-ever County Veterans’ Art Exhibit.

“The purpose of the Division of Culture & Heritage is to promote art, history, and culture to our residents. We do so by giving support through grant funding an advertising, but also through hosting exhibits of our own,” she explains. When the Division began brainstorming ideas for the fall exhibit’s theme, Pary found inspiration after reading an article detailing an art therapy project for Pennsylvania veterans suffering from PTSD. “I thought that some local veterans might also seek self expression through artwork. And with Nov. 11 being Veterans Day, an exhibit of veterans’ art seemed fitting,” she continues.

The next step in the planning process was gauging artists’ interest in participation. “We released a call for artists to the press and actually had a nice response.” Once more, the Division received inquiries from veteran artists skilled in a range of mediums and with very distinct styles. These varied submissions bring an exciting diversity to the exhibit. “We have one artist who specializes in oil painting, one who does water colors, two gentlemen who are sculptors, one who works with metal, a couple of photographers, and even a former army nurse who works with textiles,” explains Pary. The represented artists are both male and female and, together, represent all branches of the U.S. military.

The exhibit’s sole driftwood artist, Robert Santiago, served in the army during the Vietnam era from 1968-71. He is a Cape May County transplant but has lived in the area full-time for the past 10 years. Santiago quickly came to find that a number of the region’s beaches would further foster his passion for driftwood sculpting, a longtime personal hobby. “I’ve worked with a lot of mediums in my life,” he explains. “I used to work with watercolors. But now I am mainly focused on driftwood. I try to find distinct pieces of wood that resemble a real-life person or item.”

From here, Santiago incorporates shell accents and adds a number of artistic touches so that his piece may take on an interpretation of the intended object. In the Veterans’ Exhibit Santiago will display four pieces, three of which are driftwood works. One takes the shape of a horse’s head while another depicts a tribal warrior heading into battle. Santiago is excited about this unique opportunity to showcase his art, but he has no plans to use it as a platform to turn his passion into a business. “It’s a hobby that makes me happy. So I just hope to share that happiness through my pieces with the exhibit visitors.

Featured artist George Katity first served in the army beginning in 1971 when he was stationed in Vietnam. After a six-year stint as a member of the Army’s military intelligence unit, he decided to transfer into the Navy. He was later discharged due to health issues but remains active in the local veteran community as a member of the American Legion Post of Cape May Court House. A long-time County resident, Katity first began painting about three years ago. “I had done painting and drawing about 30 years back, but I decided to pick it up again. I found it to be very relaxing,” he recounts.

He fine tuned his skills with a series of lessons from the area’s leading professionals and has since become a certified art teacher himself. He describes his style as fairly “eclectic”, and his collection includes seascapes, landscapes, and even florals. He hopes that his involvement in this First Annual Exhibit will spur more participation from younger veterans in community veteran events. “I do hope that people will come out and show their support,” he states. “It seems that young vets don’t come to meetings at our service organizations…But I think that the art program is an important way of attracting new vets to attend more regularly. They may even discover, as I have, that painting is very therapeutic,” finished Katity.

The Thomas Beesley House is located at 605 Route 9, Cape May Court House. The exhibit will be open to the public Friday through Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. through Nov. 30. There will be a special opening reception for veterans and military members on Sunday, Nov. 16 from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, please contact the Division of Culture & Heritage at culture@co.cape-may.nj.us or 609-463-6415.

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