Frisco Arts Foundation celebrated Veterans Day by sharing art at an Arts & Veterans panel discussion with local U.S. Army veterans and arts advocates.
Recorded on Friday, the guests for this conversation were Peter Burns from the Frisco Public Art Board, Rob Altman from Frisco mayor’s veterans committee, Shenna Lawless, the Frisco VFW commander, and military artist Bryce Hansen.
Frisco Arts Foundation featured Hansen’s painting Got Your 6 in a Nov. 11 press release. Hansen, who is a self-taught artist, said a photograph he’d taken of a soldier inspired the painting.
In the painting, the soldier is kneeling with his rifle, watching for incoming danger. At his feet, a military canine is poised in the six o’clock position. “The dog did not need to be told where to go,” Frisco Arts wrote in the press release. “He knew his important place of service.”
“Storytelling is really at the heart of all art forms,” Tammy Meinershagen, the moderator for the art panel, told the veterans at Friday’s art panel. “It is about human connection, human expression, and the way that we relate to each other.”
Storytelling was the heart of the art panel. The veterans wove stories about their backgrounds, why they joined the military, and what brought them to Frisco.
Peter Burns, for example, was born in Jamaica. In the early ’70s, he moved to New York City when he was 12 years old. After high school, he joined the military but not because he yearned to do so. The Army recruiter, he said, kept calling his house, and his mom told him to find out what the Army recruiter wanted so she would quit calling.
“She showed me videos of what soldiers do,” Burns recalled. “What got me excited about it was driving a tank. And she said to me, ‘Where would you get a job driving a tank when you get out of the Army?’ That was the first real time that I had to make a decision.”
The recruiter steered him toward the technology field since Burns had scored well in it. He learned how to install telephones and switchboards, and became the operator on the other end of the line. He eventually got into architecture and engineering.
When he retired from the army, Burns moved to Texas with his family and started his second career in the Frisco area.
Rob Altman, a Georgia native, came from a military family. His father was an enlisted man in the Navy. His grandfather served in the Coast Guard, and his uncle, an officer in the Air Force, was a pilot in Vietnam. “So service in our family and the military was generational,” Altman said.
Altman’s wife is the reason they moved to Texas. She is an original Texan, and when he joined her family in Texas, he quickly learned to say, “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as quick as I could.”
Growing up in southeastern Georgia, Altman dreamed of jumping out of airplanes. His passion led him to enlist in the Army and join the 82nd Airborne Division. A few years later, he returned to Texas A&M to finish his undergraduate degree in history and a graduate degree in international relations.
He said he always knew that they would settle in North Texas. He credits his wife for choosing Frisco, mostly because of the good schools and his wife’s mother who lives in Plano.
“I had to go down to Texas A&M university to get my citizenship as a Texan,” he said and laughed.
Shenna Lawless was familiar with the perks of living in Frisco. She is originally from this area. At 16, she graduated from high school, but had no idea what she wanted to do. Like Altman, she had family who had served in the military; so she joined the Army and served five years active duty.
“It ended up being a blessing,” she said. “It really kind of shaped me, opened doors, and showed me passions that I really didn’t realize I had.”
Lawless gravitated toward the legal world in and out of the military. She works with contracts at FedEx. In 2008, her husband, who also served in the military, was working on his second career, so she suggested that they moved home to North Texas.
“This has always been home for me,” she said. “Now it is more of a home because of the veteran community that I’m involved in.”
Bryce Hansen’s story is similar to the others. His mom worked at the high school where he attended and invited an Army recruiter over to the house to speak with him.
“Little did she know she had already set the trap,” Hansen said.
Hansen was excited about being able to shoot a machine gun and joined the Army. He ended up at West Point, graduated, and served 14 years overseas as a Green Beret. After the military, he spent five years as a contractor in Dubai with his family, working in change management consulting with the Dubai Department of Defense.
When they decided to return home to the states, they pulled out the virtual map and began researching various cities, looking at their school systems and economic opportunities. They needed a place, he said, where they could reinvent themselves.
“Frisco is kind of like the American dream,” Hansen said. “Whatever you want to do, it’s here and you can achieve it.”
Along with their backgrounds and the meaning of art, these Frisco veterans also shared challenging and meaningful experiences from the military service (21:14 mark):