Sharing Passion for Art, Military at Library Context Exhibit
By Bri Phillips
As a young girl, Marilyn (Finley) Huerta remembers seeing combat boots lined up by the front door in her house. She came to realize that, when the boots were missing, it meant her father was deployed.
“If you ever look at someone’s shoes or you ever lose anyone who is close to you, you see their shoes left behind and remember their history and the journeys they've taken,” said Huerta, the communications specialist for Cal State San Marcos’ College of Education, Health and Human Services.
Huerta is sharing her work through a collection titled “The Red, Pride & Blues of a Military B.R.A.T,” which is part of CSUSM’s University Library Context Exhibit Series. Each semester, the library invites artists from all over the country to display their talent. The series is designed to support student learning and research and to foster community discussion and engagement through the use of art.
The third floor of the library features 22 of Huerta’s mixed-media art pieces on display. Her collection is inspired by proudly holding the title of a military B.R.A.T., an acronym for British Regiment Attached Traveler, which today refers to a child who grew up with a parent in the armed forces.
“My grandpa served in the Navy, my dad in the Air Force, my brother, nephew, uncles and cousins were in the Army, my son and husband were in the Marines, and my daughter served in the Coast Guard,” Huerta said. “We've got all bases covered.”
Huerta has fond memories of drawing with her father, a Vietnam veteran, when he wasn’t deployed overseas. She remembers her father once coloring a deer purple in a coloring book. Huerta, who was 7 at the time, told her father that he couldn’t color a deer purple because that’s not what they look like in real life. He explained to her that there are no rules in art and you can express yourself in any way you want.
After that, Huerta used bright, bold colors in her paintings, and she paints using the colors that she feels. The exhibit includes a colorful painting of a bison that she said reminds her to tell others about exploring art materials and discovering themselves. Sometimes she adds collages to her paintings by using glue, clay, photos and natural materials.
“You don't have to be selling art to be an artist,” she said. “We all have creativity inside of us. You can use art in everything that you do.”
Huerta said one of her most meaningful paintings in the collection is a tribute to the 13 service members who were killed in the Kabul airport bombing in Afghanistan on Aug. 26, 2021. On the floor under this piece are 13 candles and a vase with poppies; sand and red marbles symbolize the sand of Afghanistan and the blood that was shed.
“Any time a military member is lost, it affects more than just that member’s immediate family,” Huerta said. “The loss is felt across the nation.”
Another large art piece titled “Family Bloodline” includes numerous family photos glued to paper and connected by red string that represents the bloodline. The installation hangs from a long tree branch. Huerta said “Family Bloodline” honors many of the veterans in her family.
Huerta likes to create her own art style, and she loves to facilitate art healing sessions with others who are struggling. In May, she hosted an art workshop with 48 children from Santa Margarita Elementary School at Camp Pendleton. It was important for her to include military children in her work. Together, they created face masks with paint and mixed materials while sharing how it feels when their parents are deployed or when they move from one home to another.
Huerta is familiar with these experiences from her own upbringing. As a child, she would wear a bracelet with the name of a prisoner of war until they were freed. Her family welcomed service members to Thanksgiving dinner every year.
One of the art installation pieces in the exhibit is an acrylic painting of combat boots representing several veterans in her family. Under it and on the floor are four pairs of plaster baby shoes made from her children’s shoes. It not only represents her family, but all the youth sent to combat. Huerta said these thoughts weighed heavily on her when two of her children enlisted.
Huerta is a first-generation college graduate and a double CSUSM alumna with a bachelor’s degree in visual art. For her Master of Arts in Sociological Practice, Huerta focused her research on post-traumatic stress disorder, military suicide rates, and educating civilians about the military lifestyle. As a continuing advocate for veterans, she stresses the importance of hearing their stories.
Art helps Huerta process and tell her story. It always has been an escape for her, a way of getting through her most difficult times.
Huerta calls her mother the most creative person she knows; from her, she learned that art can be a coping mechanism.
“Sometimes family is all you have,” Huerta said.
Knowing how art helped with her struggles, Huerta was inspired to teach art healing at the CSU Shiley Haynes Institute for Palliative Care at CSUSM. She encourages her students not to focus on creating the perfect drawing or painting, but rather to use art as a form of expression.
“I always hear people say, ‘I don't know how to draw,’ ” she said. “Drawing is about connecting and expressing. In my artwork, my story comes out. I encourage you to do the same even if it's for yourself. Fourteen years ago, I started taking art classes. I was told that contemporary artists don’t paint like me. That's not why I do art. I do it for me. I do it for others to help them connect.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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