I paint, lecture and get involved not fully understanding "WHY?". I am compelled however to let future generations know, we were here, we did exist and we gave of ourselves simply because we were asked.
Words can not express my feeling and emotions or how this experience has affected my life. So I painted a picture. Here is a thousand words."
is about survival, about surrendering to your life, about using your life,
and most of all, about finding your spirit."
Joanne Tanzi (on Frank's work)
Frank Romeo is a disabled Vietnam Veteran, a survivor in many ways. He has survived physically from the pain and trauma of being critically wounded at 18. He has survived emotionally from the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that has plagued him for over 30 years. And he has survived spiritually through painting, public speaking, and writing.
Frank, along with millions of Vietnam Veterans, has had to face his trauma alone. There has been a "phenomenon of silence" as Frank calls it, surrounding the Vietnam War. Veterans came home to a society that did not welcome them. They felt shame, guilt, and neglect instead of pride in knowing they had sacrificed for their country. They suffered immeasurable pain not only from their experiences of the war but also from suppressing their tortured feelings and emotions. In Frank's case this suppression lasted over 25 years-and then the dam broke!
Only five years ago, having had no prior background or interest in art, Frank suddenly began painting in oil. He describes his compulsion to paint as a "close encounter" moment. His art was always about Vietnam. He painted endlessly and with an explosion of emotion. At first he painted in silence and hid his art from everyone. When his family finally discovered his secret they became overwhelmed by the excellence of his work and the story that the paintings told. In fact his work is so good that one of his paintings is now part of a permanent collection that has been declared a "National Treasure" by Congress. This collection is housed in the National Vietnam Veteran Art Museum in Chicago.
During his healing process with painting, Frank discovered that he is part of a hidden sub-culture of artists who also conceive their work in pain and isolation, and then silently hide it away. "Closet Art," as it's been dubbed, is discovered in attics and basements of Vietnam Veterans worldwide. This discovery launched Frank on a mission. Now instead of hiding the art, he wanted everyone to see it, especially young people who were not being taught about the Vietnam War. Frank, who never got the opportunity to go to college, began sharing his story and the "Closet Art" of veterans by creating a workshop and lecture curriculum for college and high school students. Driven by his overwhelming need to break the "phenomenon of silence," Frank devotes most of his time to educate students about the history of the war, the role of therapeutic art, and trauma survival.
As Frank began to use his life, his mission mushroomed into helping other veterans break their silence and move on. He coordinated and hosted an Australian Vietnam "Closet Art" Exhibit in New York. He also became one of the organizers of a welcome home day for the Vietnam Veterans from his community. In an attempt at closure, almost thirty-one years later, over 600 veterans gathered in his hometown to finally be honored and "welcomed home."
Although the results of these events were ultimately positive, the process of organizing them stirred up much agony and pain for Frank as he relived his experiences over and over again with each veteran he contacted. Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.) for more than three decades has meant suffering silently with sleeplessness, anxiety, claustrophobia, and feelings of isolation. This is the reason Frank is such an inspiration to so many-he has had the ability not only to overcome his personal trauma, but the drive to help break the silence for others as well.
His latest challenge has been a spiritual quest to chronicle his story in a journal-like novel. Frank, who doesn't read books and who never wrote before, was suddenly inspired to write when he received the anonymous gift of a pen. He wrote the way he painted. The words poured out endlessly, filling blank pages as he wrote everyday. He had to make up for all the years of silence-writing from the time of the war through to his present state of evolution as a person whose spirit has emerged.
The few that have been honored with the opportunity to read Frank's journal agree, like his paintings, the story he tells is overwhelming!
Many of those who Frank speaks with were just teenagers during the Vietnam War. They fell "silent" when it was finally over. And like so many others from that generation, they were either guilty, ashamed or in a place of pain like no other. They felt as though if they didn't discuss it, maybe these feeling would just go away. After all it was impossible to know what to say to anyone who had actually fought the war.
But for to many, Vietnam has not gone away. As Frank writes in his journal, "The bill has come due and the cost is staggering. We pay the price compounding the problem on a daily basis at an interest rate beyond comprehension. Like Frank's lectures, reading his novel brings the era back to consciousness with a level of understanding and hope that most have never had before.
The National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum (NWAM) is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and displaying works of art created by those who served in the Vietnam War. This powerful collection takes a personal look at war as seen through the eyes of individual soldiers who bring the experience to life through artistic expression. The permanent collection is made up of over 700 works of art created by 115 artists representing every artistic medium. The Museum also houses a comprehensive collection of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong weapons. The NVVAM features special exhibitions and educational programming year-round and is centrally located in Chicago's South Loop area (in the Prairie Avenue Historic District, just south of Chicago's Museum Campus). Call 312.326.0270 for more information or Click on the above photo.
Vietnam I paint today is in every homeless shelter and food line throughout
the land, straining its pantry to the limits. The Vietnam I paint today is visible
in the lack of available beds filling our wards and waiting lists with open
wounds of gangrene unattended for three decades. The Vietnam I paint today is
visible at burial grounds filled to capacity of the hungry, homeless, and hopeless,
tired of waiting and dying of self-inflicted, unnatural causes." It is
true that a disproportionately high rate of Vietnam Veterans are among the homeless,
are prone to commit suicide, are drug and alcohol abusers, and suffer with mental
disorders and shattered relationships.
Frank says that he is still evolving as a person dealing with his trauma. He is on a mission to reach out to others "one individual at a time." It is his dream to break the "phenomenon of silence" for all veterans, to help them restore their spirits and move on, and to bring greater understanding to the world at large about Vietnam through the art, and his writings. To quote from his journal, "The spirit of man lies in all and is available upon request if only given opportunity."
Frank is using his life to give others the opportunity they need to find their spirits once again. He is available for lectures at school campuses around the country accompanied by a "National Treasure" collection that resides in the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. Please take the time to review the 3 curriculums offered by Frank. For more specifics (rates, booking dates etc.), contact Frank by simply clicking on the "Contact" link.
At the present time Frank's manuscript is still being shopped to publishers. Check back often for updates on its publishing progress and how to purchase a copy of this powerful novel. In the meantime contributions to Frank's life long commitment to healing and educating are gladly accepted. All contributions are used to offset the cost of preserving, transporting and warehousing the artwork Frank uses in his lecturing engagements. In addition to this historic and therapeutic venture, an East Coast gallery is in progress. This learning center of immeasurable importance, available to all school districts, will be opened in a spirit of understanding, healing and factual history as a means to bridge the gap and break the "Phenomenon Of Silence".
Frank's limited addition lithograph titled "WHY?" is now available for purchase. This is the same piece that is part of the permanent collection declared a National Treasure by Congress and resides in the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. Each piece (22" x 30") is signed, numbered, framed and will be sent to you for a generous gift/contribution of $500.00 or more. Those looking to make a more modest contribution please contact Frank by clicking on the "Contact" link. Please make all contributions payable to "The Art of War".
To help keep this important work a reality, forward your gift/contribution to Frank by clicking on the "Contact" link.
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