With help from a IWCC student, artist becomes advocate for veterans’ art
Monday, August 18, 2014 — By Casey Logan / World-Herald staff writer
Troy Muller, right, and Billy Marples work on a bronze relief on Oct. 31, 2008 –OWH
Ten years ago, Muller, an art instructor at Metropolitan Community College, met a student named Billy Marples. For class, he submitted drawings of scenes from World War II. Soon the two bonded over military history. Muller asked if Marples, a Vietnam veteran, ever drew from his own experiences at war.
He hadn’t, but Marples seemed to take the question as a challenge. He later submitted a series of charcoal drawings based on his time in Vietnam, including one called “The Incident,” depicting an especially traumatic firefight.
“He got closure to this incident,” Muller said. “He had 35 years of nightmares, and it stopped that day when he made the drawing.”
That same year, Muller and Marples discussed starting an organization to support veteran artists. The mission wouldn’t be therapeutic in nature but rather to provide guidance and training for veterans interested in pursuing careers in visual art.
A decade later, the New Century Art Guild covers three buildings and more than 4,000 square feet of gallery and studio space in Kimballton, Iowa, about an hour’s drive northeast of Omaha. It is run by a third founder, Scott Smith. Muller, who remains based in Omaha, serves as art director. Marples died in 2013.
Through August, the center is home to “Unforgetting Iraq: In Search of Recovery,” a multi-media exhibit that has become all the more timely in recent weeks.
“We were coming from a point of reconciliation,” Muller said of the exhibit’s May opening, “and now we’re on a war front again.”
The exhibit, which features work by Americans and Iraqis, is a small part of Muller’s busy life these days. He still teaches at Metro. He also tries to find time to make his own art, some of which is on display at Modern Arts Midtown, 3615 Dodge St. A painter by training, Muller finds himself moving more and more to three-dimensional art, in part because so much of what is consumed these days comes from two-dimensional screens.
But Muller draws the most meaning these days from his work with veterans. He sees in their work a worldview and selflessness uncommon in the art world, and more and more he believes his own mission is to make sure such work sees the light of day — even if it means less time spent on his art.
“With the veterans I see such a huge return on the investment of my time,” he said.