Veteran Lori Johnson Bryant is wrapped in the Quilt of Valor she received for exhibiting two of her paintings in the Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day celebration at the State House in 2022. This year’s exhibit began on Nov. 1 and runs through Feb. 27. Photo by Ryan Leighton

Lori Johnson Bryant had just turned 18 when she reported to basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It wasn’t until more than three decades later that she began getting treatment for the post-traumatic stress disorder that stemmed from her service in the Army.

After leaving the military, “I was experiencing such extreme and complex PTSD, it was altering every aspect of my life,” said Bryant, who was born in Lewiston but grew up in Bucksport and still lives there. “And for a long time, I avoided everything about the military – even flags and the Fourth of July were triggering.”

She began therapy for her PTSD in 2019, at which point she was additionally diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder.

It was then that she decided to join a free art program in Bangor.

“Creating art was really helpful,” she said. “When I started painting, the different parts of me started taking over, and each part of me painted a different painting. And I never knew what would come out.”

And then last year, two of the paintings she’d made were among those chosen to be exhibited at Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day, which the Maine Legislature declared in 2015 would be celebrated every Nov. 1. Part of a national initiative and co-hosted by the Maine Arts Commission and the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, the exhibit takes place at the State Capitol Complex.


“I didn’t expect anyone to pick my art for the show,” Bryant said. “And I had avoided anything to do with the military for years. So I was very nervous to go to a veteran’s art show. But everyone was so kind. And being a part of it, I realized I was an artist.”

The veterans who exhibited their art, and received Quilts of Valor, in the Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day exhibit at the State House in 2022. Photo by Ryan Leighton

Bryant is among the dozens of veteran artists from all over Maine who have submitted works for this year’s celebration and exhibition, which runs through Feb. 27 at the State Capitol Complex, including the second floor of the Burton Cross Office Building, and at the Maine Arts Commission.

On Nov. 9, selected artists and their friends and families gathered to celebrate the exhibit at the State House Hall of Flags. As part of that ceremony, the foundation Quilts of Valor presented handmade quilts to the veteran artists new to the exhibit, in honor of their service.

“We’ve built on our partnerships with organizations like Quilts of Valor this year,” said Khristina Kurasz, director of special projects for the Maine Arts Commission. Kurasz, who joined the commission in April 2022, notes that community resources such as the Peace Gallery, a veteran’s art collaborative in Damariscotta, have been incorporated into the Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day program.

Khristina Kurasz, director of special projects for the Maine Arts Commission, speaks to Quilt of Valor honorees at the 2022 Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day celebration at the State House. Photo by Ryan Leighton

“That’s meant that artists have the opportunity to talk to a gallery owner and display their work through them, if it’s the right fit,” she said.

This year also has seen partnerships with Togus and the University of Maine system – both of which have encouraged their networks of veterans who are artists to submit work for the exhibit.


“All of the new outreach this year, it’s based on the success of last year and the feedback we received,” Kurasz said. “And it’s resulted in artists applying for grants who’ve never done so before. Now they felt empowered to take that step as an artist.”

She points out that while art can provide meaningful therapy for many veterans, sometimes it’s just art for art’s sake.

“In the exhibit, it can also just be artwork made by veterans who are artists,” she said.

One element of the event where art and well-being dovetail unequivocally is the participation of Quilts of Valor. The national foundation has a particularly strong presence in Maine, where custom-made quilts are presented to veterans – in this case, veteran artists.

“They’re pieces of art in their own right, and there’s a lot of care and effort that goes into them,” Kurasz said. “We try to learn about (the artist’s) branch of service, so if they’re a Navy veteran, then the quilt will have Navy motifs in it.

“The ceremony is often very emotional for those receiving the award. It’s comforting, too. They can wrap themselves in it and feel loved.”

Bryant said that’s very much what she experienced last year, when she displayed her artwork at the exhibit for the first time and received her quilt at the celebration.

“It had flags on it, but I didn’t find them as triggering as before, because everyone there was so kind,” she said. “They wrapped me in this quilt, and what I went through was being acknowledged.

“Trauma broke me to pieces, but art is putting me back together.”

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