Gallery: Veterans healing through mask-making art therapy

Army veteran Bill Kollada of Fargo, N.D
Listen Army veteran Bill Kollada has created two masks as part of art therapy offerings through the Fargo Veteran Affairs (VA) Health Care System. The 70-year-old Fargo, N.D., retiree spent one year and 60 days in Vietnam. This mask was made on Tuesday.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News

Updated: Feb. 10, 2021 | Posted: Nov. 11, 2018

The Fargo Veteran Affairs Health Care System offers artistic mask making as part of an art therapy program.

On Tuesday, veterans participated in the art therapy program again, some for the first time, while others adding to their collection.

The meaning behind each mask varied, some being a channel to communicate feelings that they couldn't put to words, some remembering a fellow soldier who died in the line of duty. Others created art to show the progress they feel they made since seeking help.

We asked veterans to reveal the meaning behind their art. You can hear from the veterans about their mask by using the audio player following the portrait.

Editor's note: The following interviews share events that include violence or sexual trauma. Listener discretion is advised.

Army veteran Bill Kollada of Fargo, N.D
Listen Army veteran Bill Kollada has created two masks as part of art therapy offerings through the Fargo Veteran Affairs (VA) Health Care System. The 70-year-old Fargo, N.D., retiree spent one year and 60 days in Vietnam. This mask was made on Tuesday.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Army veteran Bill Kollada
by MPR
Air Force veteran Amy Leupp of Moorhead
"I am silenced by my own fear," says Air Force veteran Amy Leupp, 27, of Moorhead. "The words. They won't come out." Leupp is in the early stages of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Leupp served in the Air Force from June 2009 to August 2013 and worked as an air field systems maintenance technician.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Air Force veteran Amy Leupp
by MPR
Army veteran Kirk Jensen, 70, of Fargo, N.D.
Army veteran Kirk Jensen, 70, of Fargo, N.D., talked about the inspiration behind his mask. Jensen served in an air cavalry unit and was in Vietnam in 1969-1970. Jensen created this mask about 18 months ago. He started therapy through the Fargo Veteran Affairs (VA) Health Care System in 2010 and continues to heal slowly.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Army veteran Kirk Jensen.
by MPR
Air Force veteran Mary Stratton, 65, of Fargo, N.D.
Air Force veteran Mary Stratton, 65, of Fargo, N.D., worked in accounting and finance at Lackland Airforce Base in Texas from 1971 to 1973. Stratton has become something of a expert at making masks as part of art therapy offerings through the Fargo Veteran Affairs (VA) Health Care System. Here, she holds her fifth creation.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Air Force veteran Mary Stratton
by MPR
Felix Orona, 69, of Moorhead, served in the Army in Vietnam.
Felix Orona, 69, of Moorhead, Minn., who served in the Army in Vietnam, created this mask. Orona said he faced racism during his service, and his lieutenant would make the soldiers wear face paint similar to the designs on his mask during more violent missions.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Felix Orona served in the Army in Vietnam.
by MPR
 Julie Saatoff, 54, of Fargo, N.D.
Gulf War veteran Julie Saatoff, 54, of Fargo, N.D., has retired from her nursing career. She served in the Army for five or so years in the early 1990s as both a medic and water purification specialist. Saatoff titled this creation "2 Faced." "Every morning I wake up, which face will I wear today," she asks. "This is healing for us," Saatoff said of the mask-making process.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Gulf War veteran Julie Saatoff
by MPR
Steven Fraase of Enderlin, N.D., served in the Army National Guard.
Listen This mask by veteran Steven Fraase conveys his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. Fraase, 47, of Enderlin, N.D., served in the Army National Guard from 1995 to 2018. He was in Afghanistan in 2005.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Steven Fraase of Enderlin, N.D.
by MPR
Veteran Steven Fraase this pair of masks.
Listen Veteran Steven Fraase created this pair of masks to contrast his public face, left, with how he feels inside, right. The 47-year-old Enderlin, N.D., man served in the Army National Guard from 1995 to 2018, including a 2005 stint in Afghanistan.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Steven Fraase two masks
by MPR
Army veteran Michelle Kitchen, 50, of Bottineau, N.D.
Army veteran Michelle Kitchen, 50, of Bottineau, N.D., holds two masks in this portrait. Listen The one on the left was made eight months ago. The one on the right was created on Tuesday. Listen "I've made a lot of growth from here to here," says Kitchen, while pointing to the left mask and then the right. Kitchen, who struggles with PTSD, finds making masks therapeutic. "People don't understand our stories," she says. Kitchen was a material control and handling specialist at Fort Benning, Ga.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Army veteran Michelle Kitchen's first mask.
by MPR
Army veteran Michelle Kitchen's second mask.
by MPR
Veteran Gene Fix, 69, of Park Rapids, Minn.
Listen Veteran Gene Fix, 69, of Park Rapids, Minn., spent one year in Vietnam in the late 1960s. "I was wounded two times in three months," says Fix, who has made three different masks as part of art therapy offerings through the Fargo Veteran Affairs (VA) Health Care System.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News
Veteran Gene Fix spent one year in Vietnam.
by MPR

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