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    Life after Formation: Army, art, activism-One woman’s journey to find happiness

    Army, art, activism

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Candice Harrison | FreChelle Wilson’s “Triptych: ‘BeforeDuringAfter’” on display at the...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Candice Harrison 

    24th Press Camp Headquarters

    EL PASO, Texas—“I only do things I want to do,” said FreChelle Wilson, artist and activist. “I stopped doing things I don’t want to a long time ago in my life. When you see something with my hand prints on it, it’s because I want to be there.”

    But doing what she wants does not mean Wilson has time to relax all day. In fact, she is busy from when she wakes up until she goes to bed. She is a wife and a mother, and all the things she “wants to do” somehow brings happiness to her home.

    The journey to where Wilson is in her life today has been influenced by the Army and art since the beginning.

    Wilson grew up as an “Army brat.” Her father was a first sergeant and a Vietnam veteran. Her mother worked in civil service on Army bases.

    “My dad was in the Army, he could sustain us,” recalled Wilson. “We were really proud of him. He was a veteran, he had it together. I was the oldest child. I don’t think I ever asked my dad for a dime. When I did he said ‘here’s a lawnmower.’”

    She fondly remembers her father’s strictness, and she attributes the drive she has today to it. As with any military child, part of Wilson’s childhood was filled with constant moving associated with her father’s permanent change of station orders.

    “We traveled a lot. I was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina. My dad’s from Bennettsville, my mom’s from Bennettsville, it’s very small,” explained Wilson. “We moved from South Carolina to Germany to North Carolina to Germany, back and forth to Germany. We got stationed at Fort Irwin, Calif., and [my father] retired while [my mother] kept working for civil service.”

    The traveling allowed Wilson to meet new people and see new places. Because of moving, she had her first experience with someone appreciating her art work.

    “When you move you lose toys, you lose shoes, you lose things. My middle sister would fall apart when she lost her toys,” said Wilson. Her sister lost her favorite doll during one of the family’s moves and was heartbroken.

    When the family arrived at Wilson’s favorite aunt’s house, she came upon boxes full of scraps and fabric. She glued and tied pieces together and made a doll. She figured every doll needs some clothes and designed a wardrobe for the small, pocket-sized doll. When she was finished, she presented the gift to her sister who was ecstatic.

    “That was the first time someone reacted like that to something I made,” Wilson said. “I think that did it, it really turned on a light. From the look on her face to my heart and it just never stopped. It made her so happy.”

    The artist went on to go to an art college in Los Angeles and earned a degree in humanities through the arts. Even through all of this, her father’s influenced kicked in and Wilson decided to join the Army.

    “When I went into the military, my dad thought I was joking,” said Wilson who enlisted as a small arms/artillery repairer in 1993. “I wanted to see the world, I wanted to travel and see how other people lived and what they were doing. I wanted to do it on my own terms.”

    Her first duty station was Kitzingen, Germany, which happened to be her father’s first duty station. After Germany, Wilson was stationed at Fort Irwin, Calif., where she met her husband. They were married and their daughter was born. From there the family moved back to Germany.

    While in Germany, Wilson’s husband began to deploy often. Her daughter was growing up and Wilson was always working. Somewhere in her mind, she knew her role had to change again.

    “When my daughter was so small she came to me and said ‘we don’t do anything together, you always work.’ To have a tiny person tell you that. That did it,” said Wilson.

    After 14 years of service, she transitioned out of the Army almost effortlessly and was able to spend time travelling Europe with her daughter. She had now become an Army wife. Wilson’s family returned to Fort Irwin and soon got orders to come to Fort Bliss, Texas.

    In El Paso, Wilson found the art district down town. She decided she would use the same drive and motivation which had worked for up to this time to show her artwork to the local museums.

    “So I put it all in a wheelie cart and I wheeled it to the museum,” said Wilson. “My plan was to go in there and talk to whoever was running it and I was going to show them my stuff. If they like it they do, if not I’m going to go to the next museum in Houston and then I’m going to hit Dallas and someone is going to like it.”

    She need not travel that far because her artwork was accepted for a show. Her determination turned a possible year-long process into one visit. This began her love affair with the El Paso art community.

    Today, Wilson participates in all facets of the local art community. She just had a show at University of Texas at El Paso’s Union Gallery called “Outsider.” From that show, the Rubin Center at UTEP asked Wilson to show one of her pieces as part of the “10 Squared” exhibit currently open.

    Not only does Wilson create, she also teaches. Certain days of the week, this seemingly omnipresent woman can be found teaching children the basics of art in an after-school program called “Young Rembrandts.” She was recently asked to participate in a PBS Kids project.

    Through all of this, Wilson still finds time to win “Humanitarian of the Year” from the NAACP.

    One of the most fulfilling things Wilson said she has done in her life happened last Christmas at a fire house in Anthony, N.M.

    “Last year, we did an activity with the colonias,” explained Wilson. “They are underprivileged. They live with dirt for their floors, no running water, no refrigerators, nothing we have and take for granted. The children have never really had Christmas.”

    The fire house hosted a Christmas event for these very underprivileged families, and Wilson brought an art project for the children. She was elated to see the children were very responsive to the art.

    “I started with five kids, then six. Then the firemen had to get more tables,” she said. “They were painting, drawing and expressing themselves. They saw art as a whole different language and it can help get your feelings out there. You don’t have to be rich.”

    Even through everything Wilson has seen and done, the Christmas event kind of wrapped up all the things she has done in her life. She said she had a feeling of euphoria unlike anything she had ever felt. It was all the better because she only does things she wants to do.

    “Next to having my baby and my husband and serving my country, it was the purest, best, most fulfilling thing ever in my life,” said Wilson through a content smile.



    Date Taken: 04.01.2014
    Date Posted: 07.29.2014 15:53
    Story ID: 137647
    Location: EL PASO, TX, US 
    Hometown: KITZINGEN, BY, DE
    Hometown: EL PASO, TX, US
    Hometown: FORT BLISS, TX, US
    Hometown: FORT IRWIN, CA, US

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