Clark County artist says art helped him confront PTSD

Shawn Ganther is a professional artist who discovered the trade as a means to confront PTSD.
Published: Sep. 27, 2020 at 7:51 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Returning to society after five years of military service in the U.S. Air Force, Shawn Ganther says he felt lost.

“I was a mess,” Ganther says. “Every veteran I talk to that’s actually been able to re-integrate and live like a stable normal life especially with PTSD has found something to actually help them.”

For Ganther, that thing is art.

“Finding that one thing at the end of the night instead of sitting there and thinking 'I need to drink myself to sleep or something like that, I can be like I don’t need that. I have this other outlet. I can go down in my studio and just draw and let it out,” he says.

Ganther first discovered art in school at UW-Stevens Point.

“So I took a drawing class and in that class I just finally started expressing myself. Things I could do with drawing that I didn’t want to talk about but I can put it on paper and my professor saw this and immediately pulled me out and said ‘Are you a veteran?’,” Ganther says. “It was just coming out and I didn’t even know it was coming out but I guess he could deduce from that I had some sort of trauma I was dealing with.”

Now Ganther makes art in various forms including painting, graphic design, screen printing and more. He has had his work shown at the National Veteran’s Museum, The Pentagon and The Smithsonian.

In addition to art, Ganther traveled the country interviewing veterans for a documentary called “Lionhearted” that is shown at The Smithsonian and is available online.

“The whole purpose of the project and the video is to help veterans and help families of veterans to see someone who is struggling,” Ganther says. “The one thing that came out of it for me, I wasn’t an Army ranger. I was in the Air Force so I thought my trauma didn’t compare, that it wasn’t worth it, that I was a weak individual for dealing with PTSD. That is why the documentary is important to me because we have people from all branches of military service all talking about ways they did things.”

His newest exhibition, “Unmasked”, portrays former American presidents as superheroes, which he debuted in his hometown during Clark County’s “Spring into Arts Tour” earlier this month.

Ganther spends up to three hours each day in his studio in the basement of the Clark Cultural Art Center in Neillsville. He eventually hopes to create art full time.

“It is built into who I am,” he says. “I can’t not make art. I cant even function if I am not making art. I dont know what to do.”

Eventually, he hopes to move away from his identity as a veteran, but knows it will always have an influence on his work.

“Everything you look me up on says ‘Shawn Ganther veteran artist’ and I am like ‘oh that is great. I want to be a regular artist’,” he says.

Ganther conducts art therapy workshops with veterans, hoping his experience could help others.

“As far as PTSD stuff for people who see this and haven’t dealt with it yet it never goes away completely you still have those dreams but once you find an outlet like art you can wake up, you don’t have to suppress it anymore,” Ganther says.

Veterans looking for help with PTSD can visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Those facing a mental health crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Veterans should press "1″.

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