• Leza Howie. Photo by Jenny D’Anger.

LEGACY House in Fremantle has been turned into WA’s first dedicated veterans art centre.

Military Art Program Australia have moved in and are running art therapy classes for vets suffering from mental and physical health issues.

The program is the brain child of Leza Howie, who’s husband and son serve in the army.

Over the years she’s seen the impact of post traumatic stress disorder on military personal and their families.

“I started initially wanting to help wives and family members, because we suffer a lot in silence,” she says.

But funding was hard to source, so she “decided to put the focus on veterans, because a lot of people want to give money to vets”.

The benefits of art therapy for those suffering depression, PTSD, anxiety and even physical ailments is well documented.

“One Vietnam vet said he’d been to counselling, done drugs and been self medicating on alcohol, and nothing worked until he started doing our art program.”

A World War II veteran attended a recent class by Dean Alston, longtime editorial cartoonist for The West Australian.

“The veteran said it was the best day he’d had in months,” Ms Howie says.

When she dropped him home, she discovered rooms full of art he’d created during World War II.

“And there was a needle-work piece on the wall he said his father made in World War I.”

Art therapy helps more than just the service people, Ms Howie says.

“We get feedback from wives of the benefits…the veterans are more focussed and less angry.”

Established and emerging artists donate their time to the program, and classes last from two to five hours, with some spread over a couple of days.

The classes are open to men and women, no matter their length of service.

They also makes up art packs for those currently serving.

“It’s art in a field kit,” Ms Howie says. “We don’t want them to be broken and come out with PTSD.”

The art program has the support of the defence department and the RSL, but runs “on the smell of an oily rag”. This weekend (January 18-19) it’s holding its fifth annual fund-raising art exhibition, with works by WA and interstate artists including veterans, at Legacy House, Parry Street, Fremantle.


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