St. Petersburg, Fla. – At 93 years old World War II veteran Peter Garino can stand and paint and recount story after story through nine generations.
He volunteers his time painting at the Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg where other veterans will sit and listen to his stories.
Garino uses vivid colors for his paintings as he explains he saw so much darkness at the age of 18 during World War II.
“If you ever want to see devastation, you realize one bomb can do it as far as the eye can see,” he said.
The art gallery has become a place for him to come and socialize with veterans who fought in wars younger than him.
The gallery was forced to cancel their main fundraising event they hold on September 11th because of Hurricane Irma. The profits from the fundraiser go to help keep the non-profit operating at their St. Petersburg location.
The center has various programs that helps connect veterans through art therapy classes, they work to prevent veteran suicides and help build relationships so veterans don’t feel isolation.
The paintings and photographs inside the gallery are created by local veterans, their families and first responders.
Part of the problem for the gallery is they not located in the popular art galleries in St. Pete’s Art District.
“We’re somewhat remote,” said John McKitrick.
McKitrick explains they’re located at the back of Gaslight Square not far from Tyrone Mall, but the foot traffic is slow.
“It was the affordable space we needed to move in at the time,” he explained.
John Katerberg, a former US Army soldier tells ABC Action News the art gallery is a safe haven for veterans — he says it’s a place he connect with other veterans.
Katerberg recently painted this image of returning home from war.
“It has to do with how I was feeling, and other veterans feel,” he said, “you take off that uniform for the last time, but really their love for the country is just below the surface.”
Katerberg plans to begin teaching other veterans through classes to help them use creative illustration as a way of healing.
He plans to sell copies of his painting titled ‘Heart of the Patriot’ at the art center — with a portion of the proceeds that will go back to the art center.
The non-profit has recently rescheduled their fundraiser for November 11th — titled the Art of Remembrance where they will honor veterans and first responders through art and music. They hope the turnout will help keep them going to continue to help veterans.
The event will be held noon to four at the Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay located at 6798 Crosswinds Drive North, B106, St. Petersburg.
For more information on the therapy program, connecting with other veterans through art or to see and or purchase the paintings, click here.