My Veterans Legacy Mural Journey by Patricia Bobik Sezna
I’m a guest artist currently collaborating with Piece by Piece on their Metro Arts Veterans Legacy Mural mosaic project. The story of my involvement with this project is rather incredible …considering it began nearly 30 years ago!
In 1994 I was working at a West LA art supply store, having moved to Los Angeles from New York the previous year. I had received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Syracuse University and was actively networking within the local arts community to build my freelance illustration career.
It was during that time I met Peter Stewart, a local artist who held a free in-store airbrush demonstration. Following his presentation, I introduced myself and asked Peter more about his artwork. He told me that he’d created several murals in the Los Angeles area featuring rainforests and endangered wildlife, issues he cared deeply about. He’d also airbrushed his van with images to promote rainforest awareness, and he owned a pet parrot who went everywhere with him. Peter impressed me as a creative, interesting person with a kind, generous spirit.
I was surprised when Peter told me that he was a US Navy Vietnam war veteran, because to me he barely seemed old enough. He said a counselor at the VA Center had encouraged him to channel his artistic skills in a positive, productive way and that advice had inspired him to create a mural in Venice a couple of years prior dedicated to Vietnam POW/MIAs. At that time we met, he was on the verge of proposing a new project to the VA for a large, multi-faceted mural to be installed in the underpass of the Wilshire Boulevard Veterans Parkway. The timing of our meeting was ideal; after viewing my illustration portfolio Peter invited me to assist him with his new project. I drove over to view both his Venice POW/MIA mural and the proposed site for his new mural at the VA Center, then called Peter to tell him I’d be thrilled and honored to assist him.
Participating in a 23,000-square-foot work of public art honoring Los Angeles area military veterans was an incredible experience for me as a young artist. Peter assigned me to create a series of illustrations for his upcoming proposal meeting with the VA to request approval and funding for the project. When he called me to share the news that the project had been greenlighted, I was elated. Peter was very gracious in acknowledging the impact of my contribution to the project, asserting that my illustrations had been a crucial part in securing the approval.
In addition to the proposal art, I was also honored to participate alongside with the veterans in the painting of the mural. At some point later, Peter became unreachable – he had stopped coming by the mural site, and his phone was disconnected. Since Peter seemed something of a ‘free spirit,’ I just assumed he was taking a break and that he would resurface eventually.
Weeks passed by, then months, and then years …eventually years became decades, with no word regarding Peter’s whereabouts. When the Internet became available, I tried searching for him online without any success. Over all the years, I never stopped wondering about Peter. I hoped he was doing well wherever he had landed, and that someday we might possibly reconnect.
I’ve since remained living in the nearby neighborhood, and throughout the years brought many people over to show them the National Veterans Mural. In July of 2022, a lifelong friend was visiting me from New York who is a US Army Gulf war veteran, and for the first time I shared the mural with a veteran. During our visit, we noticed that construction had begun for the upcoming Metro VA station that I’d heard about. I began researching online again and then discovered Metro Arts’ plans for the Veterans Legacy Mural project.
Piece by Piece had recently been awarded the project, so I contacted them to share my experience with the original National Veterans Mural. Once again, the timing turned out to be perfect; the workshops for the Veterans Legacy Mural project were just about to begin. I was then invited to collaborate with Piece by Piece and Metro Arts as a guest artist on the new mural - 28 years after my original involvement!
Also through my online research, I was very saddened to discover that Peter had died many years back. I was shocked to learn of his passing – somehow in all those years, it never occurred to me that he might have died. Peter had passed away from a short illness in February 1997, which was just two years after the National Veterans Mural dedication in February 1995. I’m still now processing the impact of learning that Peter died so long ago, at the age of forty-one.
I recently visited the mural up close for the first time since we had worked on it all those years ago. It was an emotional experience, and I paused to consider all that Peter had accomplished in his short life. I know Peter’s artistic vision has impacted a great many people, demonstrating how public art can make a real difference in our community. Instead of just viewing drab concrete walls, because of Peter’s efforts the families of Vietnam war POW/MIAs could feel acknowledged and visitors to the VA campus were welcomed and honored with colorful artwork.
I’m very honored and excited to be included now in Metro Arts’ Veterans Legacy Mural, a Piece by Piece mosaic project that will continue to build on Peter’s original vision. It’s been amazing to have my journey come full circle after so many years, and it continues to evolve. I’ve met some wonderful, truly inspiring, and creative people along the way. I believe Peter would be amazed and pleased that he and his work are being remembered and honored in such a meaningful way, all these years later.
This is such a wonderful share of the creative and collaborative process between artists and how art can and does truly help honor people who deserve to be recognized. Brava!
Kristen Papac on
Patricia, what an absolutely extraordinary experience! You are so immensely talented and they are so fortunate to have such talent combined with your huge heart involved in this important work. I have no doubt Peter is smiling down on you and so proud of your contribution. I can’t wait to get home again someday and have you take me to view it in person! 💛 Brava my dear friend! 👏🏻
Eve Ross on