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Local veteran overcomes homelessness, alcoholism to headline his own art show

Posted at 4:30 AM, Aug 09, 2018

CINCINNATI -- Art is "therapy" for Army veteran Russell Wilson, but he went years without touching a paintbrush in the depths of his fight with addiction. Thanks to the help of a rehabilitation program for veterans like himself, he's returned to his life and his passion for creating with renewed vigor. 

A new exhibit featuring his paintings opens Thursday at Dick Waller's Artplace.

"I wake up every morning, you know, just being grateful," he said.

Nelson said he's always been an artist, but has struggled with addiction and alcoholism issues which led to homelessness. He got counseling and treatment at Joseph House, which offers programs for vets battling addiction. They also have an art program, and the people running it noticed his aptitude quickly.

"Russell had this natural, raw, artistic talent inside him all the time," Art for All People director Sarah Hellmann said. "And he painted before in his life, but it was some time since he picked up the brush."

Others around Nelson saw the changes the art program created in him -- "the success he's had, the happiness" -- and hoped that they could reap the same benefits, clinical counselor Brandon Cooper said. 

The biggest and most important change, Nelson said, has been in his attitude.

"I love myself again," he said. "And, for the longest time, I didn't."

With that attitude change accomplished, a chance meeting with Dick Waller of Dick Waller's Artplace turned into an opportunity to for Nelson showcase a few pieces.

"I was adding him to another show, and then we decided to add a little more and little more and so Russell's now getting his own show," Pamela Tierney, director of art and community relations for Dick Waller's ArtPlace, said.

Nelson's show opens Thursday at 6 p.m. A portion of proceeds from the show will be donated to Joseph House.