Written by Jessica Hainstock

In a bright, airy studio, piled high with every sort of paint, textile and material imaginable, Carol Paley has been bringing purpose, meaning and pride to the veterans of Providence’s Brock Fahrni Pavilion for the past 16 years.

But don’t expect to find pipe cleaners or macaroni in this studio. “These aren’t preschool crafts,” says the Artworks instructor. “We do art here.”

And for the group who Carol affectionately refers to as “our guys,” the difference between the two is quite profound. “From our very earliest age, art fills an emotional need,” says Carol. “When you have trouble articulating your feelings, you can still use a crayon to express yourself. A lot of the people here have dementia or have had a stroke and are dealing with a lot of frustrations and sadness. Instead of staying stuck in a place of, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that,’ Artworks helps us to show these guys, ‘but you can do art and you can be really good at it.’”

Started by the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) in 1946, Artworks was instituted as a quality of life program to help veterans recuperate once they had returned home. And despite the veterans at Brock Fahrni having long since returned home from their battles, the program is every bit as impactful now as it was some 70 years ago.

“It works because it’s based on the understanding that you can’t just treat someone physically,” explains Carol. “You have to look at what they need emotionally and mentally and I feel like our art program gives our vets a quality of life because it gives a purpose to their days, something to tell their families about, be proud of, focused on.”

In addition to the purpose and pride that the art brings to the participants, the time spent in the studio also offers valued moments of interaction for the veterans and their loved ones. “Families come in, hangout with their dad, see the project progress and these might be some of their last memories of, and with, their parent,” says Carol. “The pieces that get created here are greatly treasured by the family – they often become heirlooms.”

And this greatly treasured connection to family is also something Carol is able to experience through her time in the studio. “My parents were both veterans in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and so sometimes I’ll see people coming through here and they’ll remind me of my dad. I’m proud to be working with these guys in memory of my parents.”

So what is it about the work she does with her guys that makes her the happiest? “I love bringing art to people, I love teaching people what I know and I love who I work with,” summarizes Carol. “From the moment I walk through the door of the studio, I feel like I have a smile on my face all day long.”

Coffee or tea? Neither. But I absolutely need my Diet Coke at lunch.
What skill would you like to acquire? I would love to be a wonderful painter.
What did you want to be when you were young? An interior designer.
What makes you good at your job?  I’ve always said you need to be kind and patient to do this job well. And I believe everyone can use a little art in their life.
Describe your perfect Saturday: At the beach, having a picnic with my family.