Farmington, Farmington Hills
'Drawn' to help
Posted July 29, 2009
FARMINGTON HILLS — A Farmington Hills resident with a love for drawing hopes to share his passion with wounded veterans to improve their time spent during rehabilitation and brighten their futures.
Ray Bakerjian, an industrial engineer, picked up his artistic talent from his mother, a commercial artist. Bakerjian served in the Army in the 1970s and he reads a lot — both influenced him to look for a way to help veterans, especially those with injuries coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Specifically, Bakerjian remembers reading a newspaper story about a basketball team’s potential playoff loss that ran next to a photo of an Iraq veteran and amputee. He didn’t think both types of losses belonged on the same page.
His feelings led him to volunteer as an artist at the John Dingell Veterans Hospital in Detroit. About a year ago, he started working with a psychiatric outpatient group. Most of the group members were men in their 50s and 60s, and only a few had prior experience drawing, he said.
“You wouldn’t believe some of the works that these guys did that first time, just drawing the human head,” said Bakerjian. “One of them drew a picture that looked like George W. Bush from an editorial page.”
Encouraged, and wanting to help the young soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan coming home to long rehabilitations, he got the idea for what is now the Wounded Artist Project.
The project assembles art kits for returning wounded soldiers. The beginner’s kit includes a sketchbook, two beginner’s drawing books, several pencils and an instructional DVD Bakerjian filmed.
Bakerjian thinks the art kits might alleviate boredom for those with a lot of downtime in their recoveries or rehabilitation sessions, and they might offer encouragement.
“Imagine some kid sitting in a bed, someone looks over his shoulder and says, ‘Wow, you really drew that?’ Now, can you imagine the encouragement that kid gets?” said Bakerjian.
He also hopes that if his 501(c)(3) organization takes off, some recovering veterans might even find a career direction.
“As you go through the art kits we’re going to be building — there’s a beginner, intermediate and advanced — you might get all the way through these kits and decide, ‘You know, I like doing that perspective drawing part so much, I’m going to try and study to be an architect,’” said Bakerjian.
“What we’re hoping is that you look to your future,” said Bakerjian. “I’m not an art therapist, but art is known to be a good tool to pull trauma out of people’s lives.”
This is still the Wounded Artist Project’s genesis, but some forces already have aligned to help Bakerjian implement his idea.
The Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America in Novi are helping Bakerjian get the Wounded Artist Project going.
“Basically, I see it as an opportunity or a tool to allow especially soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan to express themselves,” said Mike Harris, executive director of Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“I think it’s a great psychological tool,” Harris said.
Bakerjian reported that he contacted Random House and received permission to reproduce pages from the “Draw 50” series of books, which artist Lee J. Ames published to teach people how to draw dogs, cats, athletes, monsters and many more subjects. Bakerjian plans to mix pages from the books so that soldiers don’t get stuck drawing something they don’t care to draw.
“You want to get as easy a book as possible — building with lines and blocks and circles. And this seemed like about the best book out there,” said Bakerjian.
Bakerjian said his first step would be a trial run distributing 10-12 kits at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and possibly Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, a trip he is in the process of arranging. He plans to travel with the kits to make sure they don’t end up just thrown somewhere.
If the program takes off, he noted that webinars could be a potential tool to reach large numbers of people receiving the kits.
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