Bluffton High art students help brighten halls of veterans' nursing homes

May 16, 2011 

Valerie Cabanilla is putting the finishing touches on a large seascape she's been working on for several weeks.

Cabanilla, a senior at Bluffton High School, looks pleased with her creation. She's also gained confidence as a young artist, knowing her painting will have a home by mid-June.

The untitled seascape will be the high school's National Art Honor Society's contribution to a permanent collection at C.M. Tucker Jr. Nursing Care Center in Columbia. The nursing home, designated for veterans, is the third facility of its kind that will benefit from the largesse of the high school artists.

"I love this program," said Cabanilla, president of the NAHS. "I think it's beneficial for our veterans as well as for us to help get community services hours."

The program is a collaboration between Brian Cripps, professional artist and Sun City Hilton Head resident and Andrea Pejeau, drawing and painting teacher at the high school. More than three years ago, Cripps became aware the Veteran's Victory Nurse Home in Walterboro needed a homey touch. He rallied Lowcountry art associations to do their parts by donating artwork to the facility. He also approached Pejeau, who welcomed the invaluable opportunity for her students.

Within months, the Walterboro facility was filled with hundreds of art pieces, many by the students. The project led to the founding of an NAHS chapter at the high school, tying in perfectly with the nursing home project.

Last year, students joined the Lowcountry art community in donating artwork to the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson.

"It's an awesome thing to do, which is connecting that age (veterans') with teenagers. They so often relate to each other really well when you skip the parents' generation," Pejeau said.

Pejeau's NAHS students meet after school once a week to work on their pieces, which is also part of a community service project. When the program started three years ago, there were eight students enrolled. Today's class has 28 artists, some aspiring to have careers in the field. Students in the program must be in the advanced placement program and maintain a 3.7 grade-point average. All have taken at least three art classes prior to joining and must maintain an A-average in art.

A total of 120 pieces will be brought in phases to the C.M. Tucker Jr., Nursing Care Center. There will be 30 pieces by NAHS painters and 20 by NAHS photographers, representing 24 students.

A group of about 10 Sun City residents called the Alliance Team, headed by Cripps, voluntarily transport and hang the art. Cripps, who served as gallery manager at the Society of Bluffton Artists from 2005 to 2007, donates canvas for the project. Some of the students have traveled to Walterboro to view their artwork in the halls and communal spaces at the nursing home. Because of the distance, it's not as practical to go to Anderson or Columbia, Cripps said.

While Cripps has accomplished his primary goal -- showing art in the state's three major veterans' nursing care facilities -- he said he'd like to introduce the concept on a national scale.

"This has been a win-win situation for everyone," Cripps said. "We've had a wonderful association with the school. I buy canvas and they paint."

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