Healing Through Art
Disabled Veteran Credits ArtsQuest Scholarship and Banana Factory Artists for ‘New Lease on Life’
By Emily Cummins, ArtsQuest Public Relations Coordinator
Holding up his framed painting of a dragon’s eye as Banana Factory resident artists look on in admiration, 42-year-old Army veteran Harold Siegfried of Allentown says it’s hard to imagine that less than a year ago he was homeless. Seigfried’s transition to living an independent life has been challenging, but he is now in a place where he is growing as an artist and he thanks ArtsQuest for that gift.
After eight years as a combat arms, heavy artilleryman, Siegfried initially worked as a successful truck driver and business owner despite the hearing disability he developed during his service. It wasn’t until his father passed away that he fell ill to what he now knows is Bipolar II Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The breakdown, Siegfried says, is what brought him to Victory House of Lehigh Valley, a homeless shelter in Bethlehem.
“They required volunteer work, so I started volunteering at ArtsQuest for Christkindmarkt. That’s how I met ArtsQuest Volunteer Manager Chris Stubbe,” Siegfried says. “In the process of speaking with Chris, we got to talking about art and I showed him my work. He suggested that I come to First Friday.”
At his initial First Friday event, where the Banana Factory resident artists open their doors to the public to share their work and talent through conversation and hands-on experiences, Siegfried watched a demonstration by painter Andrew Kish and was instantly fascinated by his ability.
“That really started the encouragement,” he says.
Siegfried then met another resident artist, Erin Anderson, who inspired him to create his first painting series, “Trinity,” which was eventually exhibited in the Banana Factory. Congratulating Siegfried on his work, the artists collected supplies for him as a gift and insisted he take a class and keep learning. He first applied for a scholarship at the Baum School of Art in Allentown and then was urged by Anderson to apply for an ArtsQuest scholarship at the Banana Factory.
“Harold is someone who has demonstrated over and over again how beneficial creating art has been to his life and well-being,” Anderson says. “He has developed a strong passion to create, and I’ve seen how it helps to give him purpose and fulfillment. Scholarships and outside support are an important factor in allowing someone like Harold to continue to foster his passion for art and develop skills further.”
Since opening in 1998, the Banana Factory has offered the community the opportunity to create and experience art. Visitors are welcomed with dynamic art exhibits, 30 resident artist studios and classes and camps focused on photography, glassblowing, ceramics, jewelry and more. Each year ArtsQuest receives numerous applications for class and camp scholarships from both adults and children, with these individuals hoping they are selected as scholarship recipients.
“We want to provide arts programming to everyone regardless of their income and regardless of their resources,” says ArtsQuest Director of Education and Outreach Lisa Harms. “We are a classroom for the community. We provide an opportunity for adults and children to learn a new skill, improve upon skills they already have or develop an affinity for art.”
ArtsQuest scholarships, which are need-based, can be either full or partial scholarships and are available for all Banana Factory programming. Through a combination of state grants and donations from the community, ArtsQuest is able to provide long-term learning experiences for aspiring artists who may not have the resources to feed their creative energy.
“We don’t want the arts to seem intimidating, and as an art center we aim to be accessible and welcoming,” says Harms. “For Harold, the relationships that he’s built with our resident artists is something unique to the Banana Factory – their studios are open and you can go in and have a conversation, so you’re really learning from people who are in the midst of their work.”
Calling the environment at the Banana Factory very collaborative and the artists gracious, fostering and mentoring, Siegfried says he hasn’t missed a First Friday since his initial experience in December 2015.
“I feel like their adopted artist. I look forward to the time here, to bounce ideas off them and share my work,” he says. “That started my real desire to improve my art, for myself, but also in a way to honor what they saw in my art. When I didn’t have the means to do it, they took a chance on me.”
In Siegfried’s own work, the images he creates in oil and acrylic paints often reflect his mood, whether they are realistic or abstract, or feature dark or bright colors. His most recent project is an eye series where he has drawn the eyes of a dragon, snake, zebra and an abstracted human eye.
Now in a watercolor class with artist instructor Angie Snyder Lande, he says it’s both fun and challenging
A NEW BEGINNING
As Siegfried puts brush to paper, his service dog Phelan, from Tails of Valor Paws of Honor where Siegfried also volunteers, sits patiently.
“Art is therapeutic and really an outlet for my expression,” Siegfried says. “I did art as a kid, and I had a teacher that pushed me too hard and I started to hate it.”
Speaking of his father’s death, he says, “That was a very scary time in my life, I almost gave up on life. When I started doing my art again and coming here, it gave me a whole new outlook on life. I’m not broken, and I can hold my head high.”
After a successful partnership with Habitat for Humanity last year, Harms says ArtsQuest is looking to expand scholarship opportunities by partnering with other groups like Victory House, Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley and Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem among others.“The major goal is to continually provide services and experiences. We don’t want individuals in need to stop at just one class, so donations are key,” she says.
As a nonprofit, ArtsQuest relies on the support of donors, members, corporate and nonprofit partners to provide scholarship funds and free arts programs to youth and adults, including disabled veterans like Siegfried. Each donation to the ArtsQuest Scholarship Fund is 100-percent tax deductible, and a gift of only $250 covers the full cost of a Banana Factory art class for two students. For past and current scholarship recipients, it is truly a gift that inspires imagination and promotes healing.
Embracing art in his life again after a 20-year hiatus, Siegfried says his new dream is to become a Banana Factory resident artist himself and help others through his art.
“Art and dog training are the two things that give me the strength and courage to get up in the morning and face life and embrace it,” Siegfried says. “I can honestly say if it wasn’t for the Banana Factory artists, and the people I’ve met here, I would have been dead.
“If we can raise awareness of the programs that are out there for veterans, and those who support them, then maybe we can bring down the veteran suicide rate, which is 22 veterans each day.”
Looking to make a difference in your community? Join the individuals and businesses who support opportunities for area veterans and students in need by donating to ArtsQuest’s scholarship program.