“At my worst, I had double vision, my memory was shot and I couldn’t focus on most any task,” recalled Staff Sgt. Jonathan Meadows. His wife Melissa, a nurse, said that after Jonathan’s medevac from Afghanistan earlier this year, “He acted like an advanced Alzheimer’s case.”
Like many Wounded Warriors from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Meadows suffers from traumatic brain injury. He is currently an active-duty patient in the TBI unit of the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. Meadows is a member of the Connecticut National Guard, and he and his wife are from Ledyard, Conn.
His treatment at Fort Belvoir includes vision and speech therapy, treatment to improve his memory and physical training. All of that is helping, Meadows said, but he surprises everyone when he identifies the key to his ongoing recovery — ceramics.
“All the problems go away when I’m working with clay,” Meadows said. “It opened the door for recovery for me.”
Meadows came to ceramics through the efforts of Blair Meerfeld, chairman of the ceramics department at the Art League of Alexandria. Meerfeld convinced Fort Belvoir officials to offer ceramics as one of their therapeutic activities, largely by demonstrating his potter’s wheel before clinic patients.
Meadows signed up for Meerfeld’s class and quickly got his hands on the clay. “At first, I made a little pig, then a three-legged elephant and a turtle,” he recalled. “All of a sudden, overnight, I started making more complex subjects. I had never done anything in clay.” One of Meerfeld’s fellow instructors, Carla Amerau, was surprised at Jonathan’s innate skill.
“It is amazing to me that less than a year ago, Jon showed up to take our class having never worked with clay,” said Amerau. “Today he is producing amazing, emotionally powerful sculptures. They are works of art that creatively express his religious faith, life experiences and personal traumas.”
“Jon’s enormous talent is not something we taught him,” added Amerau, a Mount Vernon resident. “It was probably always there. Our class just allowed him to express his ideas and feelings in a creative way.”
The Art League is featuring Meadows’s work, and ceramics from other wounded warriors, in a special exhibit at the Torpedo Factory through Jan. 5. Several of his pieces were on display for a special reception hosted by the Art League on Dec. 12.
Among the dozens of people crowding the gallery that evening was U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, Meadows’s congressman from Connecticut’s 2nd District. Also there was Jose D. Riojas, chief of staff to the U.S. secretary of veterans affairs.
“Jon's sculptures amazed many people at the show,” Amerau said afterward, “and one woman told me his sculpture made her cry.”
Meerfeld, also at the reception, spoke of how the League instructors benefited from working with the Wounded Warriors: “It’s therapy for us too.”
The Art League is holding another reception for its Wounded Warrior exhibit at the Torpedo Factory on Jan. 5 from 2-4 p.m.