ARLINGTON, Va. - Staff Sgt. Jonathan Meadows suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2012 while deployed to Afghanistan when the vehicle he was riding in drove over an improvised explosive device. Currently stationed at the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Meadows uses ceramic sculpting to "put his thoughts out that he can't verbalize for many reasons," according to his wife, Melissa.
According to Jon, the sculptures on display during an art rehabilitation expo hosted by the Office of Warrior Care Policy Nov. 20 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, not only illustrate his own thoughts, but the thoughts of his comrades with whom he served on multiple deployments.
"Pretty much what I was doing was putting the feelings of what [fellow Soldiers] experienced ... what I experienced," he said. "And try to put it in a way, so that when someone looks at it they see and feel what I feel."
After a diagnosis confirmed his physical brain trauma, the Meadowses attended guided sculpting courses in a studio, despite some resistance from Jon, according to Melissa.
"Learning to deal with the new Jon was a challenge," she said. "As a family, it is difficult, but you love each other and you move on."
From small beginnings, Jon's work began with a pig, then a turtle and some other animals. His breakthrough point however, according to Melissa, is when he attempted a sculpture of Jesus and Mary.
"It took forever to make this beautiful head [for the Jesus and Mary sculpture] but it was too big," she said. "I tried to explain to him that the head needs to reflect the size of the body, so he got upset and squished it flat."
It was after that moment Jon began to create the body of work he is famous for now.
"And the next thing we know he had his first Soldier sculpture," said Melissa. "It was an overnight talent - I tell him his brain broke in the right way."
Not all of these themes in Jon's work - substance abuse, suicidal ideations, PTSD, grieving the loss of fellow Soldiers - come from his own experiences. Consulting with his "battle buddies" plays an important role in his process, he said.
"I didn't think I would get injured the way I did," he said. "I went through a depression phase and you feel like you aren't just worth much anymore. I have seen so many Soldiers go through that, so [the art] means something to a lot of Soldiers."