Virtual gallery celebrates veterans' artwork

Veteran Art Institute soldier painting
Posted at 9:27 PM, Nov 30, 2020

From the stroke of a brush to the click of the shutter and the carving of clay, art comes in a number of forms and so do the artists. Each artist draws on their own life experiences that often manifest into their creations.

“So I’m really into surrealism,” said Kena Dillon.

She’s a graduate of University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, also known as DAAP.

“The fact with surrealism, you can push it and get as weird or, you know, as whatever as you want to,” she said.

Artist Kena Dillon

Some of that weirdness or outside-the-box expression comes through in her creation of "Blobby Dude," a cartoon blob that takes on different personas and scenarios developed from childhood memories to things she experienced while serving in the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Machinist Mate. She explains that some of those stories told through her art come in both direct and indirect manners.

“I really liked the fact that I take small pieces and memories about different things,” she explained. “So, you know, to kind of put that in there."

To the viewer consuming the art, the intention may not always be evident.

Veteran Art Institute

“The power of stories goes without saying,” Veteran Art Institute creator Kathleen Ellertson said. “I believe our veterans all have stories, and they're all unique to those veterans.”

After retiring from her job at Intel, Ellertson decided to focus on giving back to the men and women who served our country. Her father was a World War II veteran in the Army Air Force and provided the inspiration to start the institute.

“In 2009, when he died, it occurred to me that I really wanted to do something to help veterans," she said. "I started working with veteran agencies around the US offering my services as a visual arts coordinator."

After years of hosting other art exhibitions at places like the Pentagon and aboard the WWII-era ship the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, she decided to create the Veteran Art Institute, establishing the nonprofit in 2019.

“We're actually developing this online gallery that will you, a person, will be able to walk through and literally view the piece in 3D,” said Ellertson.

Veteran Art Institute soldier painting

The virtual gallery will operate very similarly to a brick-and-mortar gallery.

“The gallery itself will be an ongoing, differentiating show,” Ellertson said. “So that will be a permanent collection. But there will also be ongoing shows.”

The military veteran-only artist focus, she said, offers a way to highlight heroes in arms who are also artistic. Through a virtual gallery people can browse the art, read about the artists, and if they choose, can purchase the pieces on the spot. Unlike other galleries there are no fees associated with the sale of any artist’s work.

“No fee. It's all service-based," Ellertson said. "I'm just here to serve the ones that served us."

Kena Dillon says getting a gallery to show off your work can be a challenge and a lengthy process and applauds Ellertson’s efforts to feature veteran artists.

“I think it’s great that she’s doing that to go ahead and help veterans, you know, a more accessible way for them to get into that,” she said.

Veteran Art Institute Homepage

For more information on the Veteran Art Institute, head over If you’d like to check out Kena Dillon’s work, visit

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