Local winners of an arts contest at the Canandaigua VA are in the running for a national competition

CANANDAIGUA — Charles Keener was a Navy seaman on the USS Cone in 1971. He recalled six months at sea, as the Vietnam War raged and Cold War tensions escalated. During one “intense encounter,” Keener said his ship landed in a confrontation with a Soviet destroyer loaded with missiles. An urgent message relayed to the White House avoided a potentially deadly outcome. Another hair-raising moment from those days — a typhoon that nearly brought down the USS Cone.

“Everyone was hanging on for dear life,” recalled Keener, who was 19 at the time.

On Wednesday, Keener was at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center with a clear plastic folder in hand filled with his drawings. At the VA for a medical appointment, he didn’t want to miss checking out the art exhibit in the VA auditorium. Keener battles Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and discovered years ago, with encouragement from VA professionals, that art offers relief from PTSD.

“I love art,” said Keener, 67, who slipped a drawing from his folder, a scene of rainbow colors done in pencil.

Displayed at the VA Wednesday were a number of paintings, drawings, sculptures, creative crafts and writings by area veterans — some of whom may be selected to enter a national contest. Music, dance and drama are also among the contestants for the annual National Veterans Creative Arts Competition & Festival. This year’s event will take place in Kalamazoo, Michigan, from Oct. 28 to Nov. 3.

Keener hadn’t entered work in this year’s contest, but fellow Canandaigua-area veteran Donna Everett had. She was there to enjoy the display that included several of her own works. Among those were first-place paintings reflecting her self-described passion for fantasy and sci-fi. There was “Wizard of the Red Forest” and “Bubble Up Bubble Cup” and a painting of a winking, green-skinned gnome titled “You don’t say.”

“I like to push the envelope,” said Everett, an Air Force veteran whose service in the late 1970s and early 1980s involved handling top-secret radioactive parts for war planes. She was known as “the keeper of the cage,” she said, because of the isolated and extremely secretive environment in which she worked. Drawn to art from an early age, Everett said painting has always been a rewarding outlet for her and she appreciates the VA recognizing the healing potential for veterans from all the arts.

The exhibit included works of veterans from across the region. Some of those artists are well known; for example, Kurt Carlson of Naples. A glassmaker more than 30 years, Carlson is a glass blower at Corning Museum of Glass and his award-winning works are seen at festivals, in shops and at a home studio. His new work “Father and Son,” bore a first-place ribbon at the VA show. Other winners included musician Fred Lampey, for his new arrangements for solo and jazz and solo and pop, as well as a musical band, deFenders, for multiple submissions including “Lean on Me” and “Stuck in the Middle.”

Submissions were first judged locally by a Canandaigua Academy art teacher and an art vendor from Main Street Arts. A certain number of winners from local contests will be chosen to compete in the national show. The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival is co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion Auxiliary. Any veteran treated in the VA national health care system is eligible to submit work each year for the contest.