The art and photography of veterans now on display at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods showcases nature’s role in providing a sense of well-being to those who served.
“At Ease: Healing in Nature” at Brushwood, an arts and cultural center within the 565-acre Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area near Riverwoods, showcases the works of active-duty service members, veterans and their family members. About 65 pieces by more than 20 artists are featured throughout the home built by the late steel executive in the 1940s.
At Ease started in 2015 as a way to address the well-being of veterans through nature-based art and photography workshops, as well as other programs throughout the year.
The exhibition, which runs through Dec. 21, is window into the healing that’s possible through creative expression and engaging in the outdoors, said Brushwood Executive Director Catherine Game.
“The power to heal, the power to share, the power to reflect, too,” she said. “Sometimes, art is a way of sharing your story in a really different but effective way.”
That’s the case for Army veteran Ramona Pozek, a primarily self-taught painter who works in a variety of mediums and has what she calls creative attention deficit disorder. She also is a writer, filmmaker and actor.
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Her entry in “At Ease” is a colorful painting of a flower called “Burnt Petals.”
“I wanted to make a concerted effort to make something brighter and pull something out of myself,” she said.
The description on her entry says her work focuses on translating experiences through the intersection of culture, womanhood, mental illness, physical disability and trauma.
“Sometimes, the details are far too triggering to talk about, but the art lets you get it out there,” Pozek said.
In October, Pozek led a story-sharing session at a nature and wellness retreat for female veterans at Ryerson. Two more are planned.
Marine Corps veteran Ty Hanyzewski made the trip from Chicago with Pozek. He took up photography when he was 12 and said it became therapy when he lost direction after his service ended in 2008.
Hanyzewski said nature and urban settings are his go-to inspirations. His “Fall Leaf” photograph on display at Brushwood is a contrast in light and detail, taken at Millennium Park in Chicago.
Pozek says visiting Brushwood gives her perspective.
“Just let it be,” she said. “Being in nature helps me with my anxiety a lot.”
Kyle Boyer-Hanks, an intern at Brushwood, has five months of active duty left with the Navy. He leads weekly “Nature Platoon” walks.
“The idea is the socialization, the community and to be immersed in nature. It’s a diverse group, but there’s a common sense of understanding,” he said. “We’ve heard from participants that it’s calming and something they need.”
Brushwood also offers art and environmental education programs for youth, families and those facing racial and economic injustices. It is self-described as the only organization in the Chicago region whose mission “leverages the power of the arts and nature for human and ecological well-being.”
“Brushwood isn’t just for veterans,” said Boyer-Hanks. “It’s for everyone.”
Brushwood is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays and by appointment.