The Veteran Print Project: Aaron Ziebell

This past semester, my class of student veterans at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point joined forces with The Veteran Print Project and an advanced printmaking class at our university to produce fine art prints based on my students’ stories of military service, war, and coming home. I’ll be sharing pictures from the big reveal we had in May, as well as the artists’ statements and the work they produced.

I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that this was a tremendous opportunity for everyone to better connect, for my students to share their stories, and for the artists to create meaningful work on truly profound topics. Tolstoy said that the purpose of art was to provide a bridge of empathy between the artist and others. We took that concept one step further. By sharing their stories, my students connected with their artists, eliciting empathy and a better understanding. The artist then illustrated what they discovered for you, the viewer. The veteran then had the amazing opportunity to bear witness to their own stories and to see the ways in which their illustrated stories affected other viewers.

I hope that the work you see here will transform the way you think about war and veterans — I know it has for me.

Jake Szeligowski presenting his print of Aaron Ziebell's story.

Jake Szeligowski presenting his print of Aaron Ziebell’s story.

Artist Statement, Jake Szeligowski:

Almost five months ago I met Aaron, a veteran, father, and student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. We met on a Friday morning over coffee to discuss his time in service, and for me to record his stories to be used for the Veteran Print Project. Aaron entered the military in 2003 immediately after graduating High School. My print focuses on Aaron’s time stationed at Fort Knox. In 2004 Aaron attended basic training at Fort Knox, after graduation continued his service stationed at Fort Knox. Soon after graduating basic training Aaron married, and in 2005 had his daughter, Riley. Aaron’s wife, at the time, was a jailer, a position higher ranking than Aaron’s own tanker position. During their marriage his wife was deployed three times to Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. In entering the service Aaron never expected to both complete basic training and be stationed at Fort Knox. His wife’s deployment and young daughter allowed Aaron to work a 9-5pm job on the base.

I wanted to incorporate Aaron’s story with my own artist style when approaching this project. This past semester I have developed a style of mono-print where I digitally print photographic images of portraits on top of ink color fields. Portraits have become an important feature in my work, as I find working with the human form allows me to convey or express narrative conventions. In this piece I have switched the conventions I have been working with, using a digital map in place of the color field, and linoleum cut print for the portrait aspect. The print conveys a figure intertwined with a topographic map of Fort Knox. The image represents the interconnectedness between Aaron and his service at Fort Knox. In understanding Aaron’s story Fort Knox becomes an equally important figure in the narrative as Aaron himself. Fort Knox is known for maximum security, as well as holding the United States’ wealth in gold and silver. This reflects the duality to Aaron’s containment at Fort Knox during the duration of his service.

19 Aaron Ziebell

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