Seeing Military Service ‘Through Their Eyes’

D.C. area teens bring veterans’ stories to artistic life in exhibition at George Washington University.

Through Their Eyes
November 10, 2014

By Ruth Steinhardt

Victoria Pridemore doesn’t like to take the spotlight. It’s her job to bring attention to other veterans’ stories, she said, and she doesn’t often tell her own. But on Friday Ms. Pridemore and dozens of other veterans took center stage, seeing their lives interpreted by D.C.-area high school artists as part of the “Through Their Eyes” art exhibition at the George Washington University.

Ms. Pridemore, who is GW’s associate director of military and student services, said that her parents had an acrimonious divorce and her father was not on speaking terms with her maternal grandparents. But on the day she deployed to Iraq in 2003, both sides of the family came to say their goodbyes.

“I saw my grandfather come over to my dad and hold him, and he said, ‘It’s OK to cry today,’” Ms. Pridemore remembered, blinking back unexpected tears.

“It was just a moment. It didn’t mean they were suddenly best friends. But it reminded me why we in the armed forces do what we do—for our families. And to see that moment visually in art is amazing, because it wasn’t something you could photograph.”

Students in Advanced Placement and honors art classes at Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill, Md., Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., Freedom High School in Chantilly, Va., and Dominion High School in Sterling, Va., were given stories by veterans in the GW community and the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C.

Knowing nothing more than what they were given about their assigned veterans, the students were tasked with providing visual interpretations. These pieces, in a variety of media and styles, were displayed in the Marvin Center’s Grand Ballroom during the Friday reception.

Two high school artists interpreted Victoria Pridemore's story for "Through Their Eyes."

The stories ranged from the humorous to the tragic and represented veterans of every American war from World War II to Iraq.

The project, part of GW’s Veterans Week programming, was co-sponsored by GW VALOR, the university’s Office of Military and Veteran Student Services and the Institute for Middle East Studies (IMES) in GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs, which funded “Through Their Eyes” with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It was the event’s second year. (See photos from the 2013 “Rendering Project” here.)

“This is a really exciting event for the Institute for Middle East Studies,” said Alexandra Perotti, education and outreach coordinator at IMES. “As a Title VI National Resource Center, our priority outreach groups include K-12 students and educators and veterans. This event is a unique opportunity to bring those two groups together in a way that reaches a lot of different audiences, through the art, through these stories and then through this public event. It’s one of our favorites.”

Retired Sgt. Elizabeth “Little Bit” Lloyd smiled as she re-read her own story. She joined the Army, after unsuccessful attempts at the U.S. Marines and Navy, as an 18-year-old platinum blonde not quite five feet tall and weighing slightly under 100 pounds—hence her nickname.

“I probably shouldn’t have made it in,” she said, chuckling, “but the recruiter let me slide because they knew I wanted it so badly.” Twenty-six years of service followed, during which Sgt. Lloyd taught drill, physical training and customs and courtesies of the Army. She eventually rose to the rank of first sergeant, commanding up to 40 women.

“It’s lovely, very romantic,” she said of the watercolor interpretation of her story, which showed her as a young military woman embraced by a man in uniform. “Although,” she added mischievously, “I don’t know which husband it is. I ended up with three.”


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