By JOHN T. WARD
Returning home after a year’s service in Vietnam, Jim Black remembers landing on American soil after midnight. There was no welcoming committee, no formal expression of gratitude. U.S. authorities made sure the repatriations took place under cover of darkness, in part to shield soldiers from war protesters, he said.
It left Black and others other veterans feeling slighted, he said. It wasn’t that he and his fellow soldiers wanted a parade, but “just don’t hate me,” he said, choking up a bit.
That’s why a free art school for military veterans in Red Bank means so much to him: it makes him and other vets feel “welcomed” at last, he told redbankgreen Friday.
Opened on Broad Street three years ago, Ani Art Academy offers free art instruction for veterans willing to invest 20 hours a week in learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting, said instructor Kevin Moore.
Founded by Tim Reynolds of Middletown, it’s one of six Ani academies around the globe, all of them free, most of them supported by income from vacation resorts Reynolds owns near each, Moore said. Red Bank, though, is the only one with a focus on veterans.
The program, which includes free art materials, “is about getting them to achieve whatever goals they want to achieve artistically,” whether that means painting for pleasure or working in the commercial art world, said Moore.
Next month, the Red Bank studio will host its first-ever exhibition, a monthlong display of works by vets in the program. Black will show two finely detailed charcoal drawings he made of his cats, Mina and Felix.
After living in San Francisco for more than three decades, Black, 71, and his wife, a Long Branch native, moved to Red Bank a few years ago to be close to family. He’d always drawn for his own pleasure, but had no serious art training before enrolling at Ani.
Among the portfolio pieces he used to get into the program was a portrait of actor Basil Rathbone he made many years ago and now keeps in digital form on his cellphone.
The “very specific” programs teaches charcoal drawing and oil painting through a series of exercises aimed at building eye-hand skills and muscle memory, said George Weiss an 84-year-old Sea Bright resident and Korean war veteran.
“The discipline here is not something I ever would have learned on my own,” said Weiss, a self-taught artist before he enrolled at Ani six months ago.
The exercises are “monotonous at times, but you just go with it,” said Black. The work of shading charcoal lines can induce a hypnotic, zen-like state of mind, he said, adding, “I think I’m a little autistic, so in that sense I fit right in. You can lose yourself in what you’re doing.”
Black said that when he started at Ani, he felt “a little lost, and a little depressed.” Ani, he said, allows veterans to “do something that engages you, keeps your mind active, and gives you satisfaction at the end of the day.
“It really was serendipitous for me that the only one of these schools in the world is right here in Red Bank,” he said.
“What they’re giving us is pretty great,” said Weiss, who retired from the insurance business 20 years ago.
Much of the art on display in the show will be for sale, with all proceeds going directly to the seller artists without Ani taking a commission, said Moore.
The ‘Equinox’ exhibition kicks off with a public-welcome free reception on Saturday, April 27. Ani Art Academy is at 143 Broad Street, near the corner of Harding Road.