Many of them had never picked up a paintbrush before — but now their works of art are front and center at a Veteran's Day art exhibit.
It all started when three women, strangers, crossed paths at a regional symposium touting the benefits of arts programs for veterans.
Claremore Veteran's Center's Program Adminstrator, Monique Dilonardo, said the symposium is where she met Beverly Wissen.
"We are blessed with an amazing, talented and passionate art teacher," Dilonardo said. "Beverly comes in every Monday and teaches them art theory and technique and introduces them to another world through art."
Diana Reeves, the executive director of programming and events at the Mayes County Cultural Center was at the symposium as well.
From there, Reeves was inspired to host an art exhibit spotlighting art created by area veterans—complete with an opening reception.
"Many of these guys have never picked up a paintbrush and now they're looking at their world in a whole new light," Dilonardo said.
She said art is personal, so each of the art students are getting something different from the process.
For some it has been a challenge, but all of them say it has been fulfilling.
She said it's about how they see their world, a chance to reflect on what they've been through, and express it in a new way.
"Many of these men feel like they don't have a voice anymore. But this is a good way for them to communicate with the world," she said.
When Reeves reached out for art show entries, Dilonardo said the artists were extremely humbled.
"They were so honored their art was being considered as something of value," Dilonardo said. "Many of them are so new to art as a form of expression that they're their own worst critics."
She said many of them were intimidated at the thought of being in the spotlight—but she thinks it's well-deserved.
"To celebrate them and remind them that they do have a voice, especially now," she
said. "It offers validity to their work and makes them feel as though they're being taken seriously."
Reeves said she was honored to welcome the artists to a reception celebrating the opening of their exhibit.
She said the artists who were represented in the show are: Ernest Bays, Charles Bonhoffer, Gayle Bressler, Thomas Bryant, Ralph Harris, Johnny Jones, Al McLain and Billy Sherwin.