PEORIA — A unique art exhibit called “22 Veterans’ Art” is coming to the Peoria Public Library’s Main Branch located at 107 Northeast Monroe St. and will feature different art mediums. Organizer Michael Regan said it will open Dec. 3 and from 1-3 p.m. they will feature several speakers. The exhibit is free to the public and will run through the end of January.

Regan of Mapleton is a veteran himself. He spent 20 years serving in the Navy and said over half his career was spent overseas working harbor security. Regan was also a military recruiter in the area for five years and was an instructor at Naval Station Great Lakes. He said holidays are the hardest times of the year for veterans so he wanted this art exhibit to be available for them during the tough times.

The program, 22 Veterans’ Art, is several years old. It began with 22 veterans who came together to raise awareness of the alarming rate of suicide among veterans. 

In a VA Suicide Prevention Program “Facts about Veteran Suicide” report in July 2016, it stated that, “In 2014, veterans accounted for 18 percent of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults, while veterans constituted 8.5-percent of the U.S. population.”

Regan said the art program “is really vets helping vets.” His grandfather, a World War II veteran, committed suicide when Regan was 5 years old.

Regan was deployed for 16 months and missed his daughter’s first and second birthdays. It was very difficult for him to be away for those milestones that he won’t get back, he said. 

Returning to civilian-life is not always a smooth transition for veterans. Regan said adjusting to civilian-life after being deployed seemed very unstructured compared to the military. He was getting frequent headaches upon returning from overseas. They were so bad, they would wake him up at night.

As a result, he began creating a structure not knowing what it would become in the end. He ended up showing it in 2012 for the 22 Veterans’ Art exhibit. Regan said he left his name off of the piece because he was unsure how it would be received and he thought it might be “too twisted.”

His art was a bust called “Headaches” he pieced together from items he had.

“I used a 9mm shell in the temple because 22 vets commit suicide a day,” Regan said. “I used beer bottle caps over the eyes because too often vets self-medicate with alcohol. I used fish hooks through the mouth because vets don’t like to talk about what’s in their heads.”

In 2013, he was the overall winner at the Veterans’ Fine Arts Fair. “I had a Vietnam vet come up and tell me he realized someone else ‘gets’ me, understands what I went 

through every day,” he said.

Now “Headaches” is a signature piece for 22 Veterans’ Art. Regan said it is much more than being just about suicide though. When he makes contact with veterans whether it is at an art exhibit or somewhere else, he asks for his or her phone number. 

Then on the 22nd of each month, he makes phone calls to veterans, especially the ones he worries about. It is called, “Buddy Check 22” and was started by a local former Marine. Regan said, “It’s another example of veterans helping veterans. I call just to talk.”

Regan said that he is currently looking for more veterans to exhibit art. He said veterans do not have to be a combat veteran to be included. 

“Military service really affects whole families — parents, grandparents, kids, any loved ones,” Regan said.

Stormy Lee Monday of Pekin served from 1972-73 in the 25th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. He has participated in 22 Veterans’ Art in the past two years.

Monday is a painter by trade. He was a union painter for 30 years and owned a painting business.

Participating in this art exhibit is important to him.

“Being a veteran, it’s important to me. I’m also a patriot guard. I escort a deceased veteran to the gravesite,” he said. “This is a way for me to say thank you for your service. Doing these art exhibits are awesome, number one. It’s a way to show camaraderie and respect to each other. I know so many veterans. It’s nice to be noticed. It’s nice for people to see my work and for me to see theirs.”

Monday has painted over 700 pieces. He will bring four pieces to the art exhibit.

“My pieces are diverse. I’ve been an artist all my life. I’ve got surrealistic and expressionist art. I’m also an author of fiction and poetry,” he said.

Regan wants this to be a way for veterans to heal. Since it affects whole families, Regan would like to exhibit letters to and from loved ones while military members were overseas. Anyone willing to share their personal letters may contact Regan by emailing him at mtr22va@yahoo.com. 

“It seems like vets don’t feel like they can get stuff out of their heads,” he said. “Hopefully, they can by just making something.”