Nashville, TN

Artists David Wright and Chuck Creasy Share Vietnam Experiences Past and Present in New Exhibit

Deborah Evans Price

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Courtesy Monthaven Arts & Cultural Center

By Deborah Evans Price

There’s no denying that the Vietnam War is one of the controversial eras in America’s history, but Middle Tennesseans are getting a unique look at the country and its people through VIETNAM: 2 SOLDIERS, 2 ARTISTS, 2 JOURNEYS THEN & NOW. Featuring the work of award-winning artists David Wright and Chuck Creasy, who both served in Vietnam in the 1960s, the exhibit has been held over at Monthaven Arts & Cultural Center in Hendersonville, TN until August 29th.

The exhibit features sketches and drawings Wright did during his deployment in the ’60s as well as paintings Creasy did in 2018 when he returned to Vietnam 50 years after he first landed in the country during his military service.

“Before I went over, I worked as an artist in Nashville, and my assignment in Vietnam was as an artist at the Vietnamese Military Training Aid section, which was kind of an odd assignment, but that’s what took me all over the country during my year, so I got to experience a lot of different things,” says Wright, who arrived in Vietnam in December 1964 and returned home the following December. “During that time, it gave me an insight into the people and their lives. That’s where my art came from is watching them, observing them. I photographed them. I don’t even recall when I did these drawings, but I sketched all the time.”

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Chuck Creasy (left) and David WrightCourtesy of Chuck Creasy

While Wright’s work reflects the Vietnam he observed in the ’60s, Creasy’s paintings came from a trip his children gave him to celebrate his 70th birthday. “My daughter and youngest son took me back over there,” he tells News Break. “When I left the country in ’68 of course it was in absolute shambles and just a mess. I had marveled at the beauty of the country the whole time I was there and the people. I just loved the people when I was over there. They were sweet natured, kind, hard-working folks that were in a terrible situation. I just wanted to go back and hopefully find a rebuilt country and the people who had their spirit rebuilt and that’s exactly what I found. It was just amazing.”

The exhibit at Monthaven marks the first time these works have been seen by the public. “They came home in a sack and went in a drawer and they’ve been there ever since,” Wright says. “Maybe every 10-15 years I’d take them out and look at them, but they’ve had no activity. They’ve never been out and shown anywhere. What I’ve got here is a record of one year of my life from a long time ago that has just now emerged for people to see it. I’m tickled to death that that’s the case, that we’ve done this because they could have laid there until I died, and my family are the only ones who have seen them. Nobody outside my family has ever seen these drawings until now.”

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Courtesy of David Wright

The idea for the exhibit started with a conversation among the longtime friends. “David and I have known each other since ’69 since I got back from Vietnam. He went to the same art school I did, just five years earlier,” Creasy shares. “I had gotten drafted after my sophomore year in college and went to Vietnam. When I came back, instead of going back to college, I decided to go to art school, and it happened to be the same art school that David went to. He had already gotten back from ’Nam and had already finished school and was in the advertising business. We just got to be buddies then and through the years we stayed really close. I’ve known him for 50 something years and I admired his work forever. For years I would have him critique my stuff and since he was painting full time and I was in the ad business full time.”

When Creasy returned from his 2018 trip to Vietnam, he called Wright. “I told him I had gone back and I was thinking about doing a series of paintings. I had one finished and I’d like to come up to the studio to get him to critique it,” Creasy recalls. “I went up there and we sat out on the deck and had a cigar and he said, ‘Wow! This is fantastic Chuck!’ We got to talking and he said, ‘I’ve got a bunch of stuff I did while I was over there,’ and I had no idea that he had. We’d never talked about it. He pulled out these beautiful drawings and sketches and a couple little paintings he had done, and that’s where we hatched the concept of let’s do two old buddies who had been in Vietnam and are now artists. It just happened.”

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Courtesy of Chuck Creasy

Both artists are hoping the exhibit will help spotlight the beauty of the country and the resilience of its people. “We’re not about doing combat art. That’s not what we want portrayed here at all. I don’t want people to go away with seeing the hard side of war at all,” Wright says. “I’m not showing combat or dead bodies or the horror of war by any means. This is a record of these people and who they were and me too, an American soldier in a helicopter, but most of it is the Vietnamese people. It brings back a lot of memories, but it’s a history show, a historical documentation.”

Wright is well known for documenting history, especially his paintings of the American frontier. He was commissioned to create six paintings for Nashville: The Faces of Two Centuries, which celebrated Nashville’s bicentennial. His painting of an 18th century frontiersman was selected for the poster for the Fine Arts Pavilion at the 1982 World’s Fair. His list of awards and accolades is lengthy and impressive, and his work continues to be featured internationally including a show this fall at Settlers West Gallery in Tucson, AZ. He is also being recognized by the Booth Western Art Museum as their Artist of Excellence this year.

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Courtesy of David Wright

Creasy is also an award-winning artist whose paintings have illuminated scenes from the backwoods of his native Tennessee to the Bay Islands of Honduras and the beaches of Aruba.

Both Wright and Creasy are hoping the Vietnam exhibit will travel to additional galleries after its run at Monthaven, and other opportunities are currently being explored. “When you say Vietnam, most Americans think of that nasty old war in South East Asia and most younger people really don’t have a clue,” Creasy says. “I just hope people realize that that’s not what Vietnam is today. It’s certainly a third world country, but it’s an emerging one, one that has made huge strides and whose people continue to demonstrate a strength, tenacity and energy that needs to be celebrated, and I would hope that people feel that when they see our exhibit.”

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Courtesy of Chuck Creasy

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