Veteran uses art to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Daniela Escobar

Contributing Writer

Dawnay St. John, 62, a Veteran artist, knew it wasn’t in her family’s budget to continue her education after high school and the only way she would get a chance at ever getting a degree would be to join the military. 

Now, St. John is an Air Force Veteran, has a beautiful family, paints to overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and is in her second semester at BC and is working towards getting a degree in Fine Arts.

St. John has enjoyed the act of painting since she was a young child. She goes on to say that she is a visual person and likes to capture moments of great beauty, places that move her heart and faces that fascinate her. 

“I can lose myself in a canvas for hours,” said St. John.

St. John was a non-commissioned officer in the Air Force. She entered at age 19 and was in the Air Force for six years. 

While serving in Turkey as a first responder medic, St. John started suffering from PTSD after a plane came crashing down killing and injuring many fighters. “It was awful. I live that one over and over again,” said St. John. 

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. So painting helps as an absorbing hobby that concentrates the mind with its details and brush strokes providing a calming rhythm that gently diminishes the anxiety.

Oscar Feliciano, the Associate Director of Military and Veterans Affairs of Broward College, supports and assists all of the veterans who are looking to enroll in BC and he had nothing but positive things to say about St. John after helping her enroll for classes BC. 

“Meeting Veterans like Dawnay is what makes me appreciate my job. Her story is truly inspiring,” said Feliciano.

St. John’s paintings reflect her feelings in issues especially PTSD. 

Her paintings are an evolving collage and a socio-political commentary on PTSD. Other work are acrylic and multi-media therapeutic messages that inform her long-term objective of a community installation that will engage and stimulate the dialogue on PTSD.

Not all of St. John’s work is for human consumption though. She is very selective about showcasing some of the works she has created because it can trigger PTSD. 

“I can paint nightmares with a sharpie,” said St. John. The dialogue of her paintings reminds people who share the same challenges as her, that they are not alone.

St. John is a successful painter here as well as in Barbados, which is where she resides half of the time. 

She is very involved with art events in her area and is currently working on self-promotion after graduating this past summer from the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute (AEI). 

AEI teaches artists how to bring business to their paintings. It’s open to artists in all creative fields and features simple business plans and workshops.

She currently has one piece on display at the Coral Springs Museum and a 3D piece on display in the gallery of building 6 on Central Campus.

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