By STEVE PFARRER
Though she was too young to understand many details at the time, Mollye Maxner remembers the Vietnam War had a profound effect on her family. Her father, Steve Maxner, served as a combat medic in the war and endured emotional turmoil from his experience for years afterward.
Mollye Maxner, who grew up in Northampton and today is the co-director of A.P.E., the longtime arts organization, wrote a play, “Occupied Territories,” several years ago based partly on her family’s experience. After some performances off-Broadway and on Martha’s Vineyard, the drama got a live reading in Northampton in 2019, and a fundraising campaign was established to bring the full production to the city.
For a few different reasons, including a problem called COVID-19, that didn’t happen. But the play, and the Maxner family’s experience, has spurred something else in its place — fittingly taking place as Veterans Day approaches.
“A Stone’s Throw” is a multi-tiered visual art and performance festival featuring varied works focused on the experiences of military veterans and their families. Centered at the A.P.E. gallery, the project offers exhibits in other locations in the city through November; the work has been created by vets, active military members, and their family members.
The month-long festival, jointly produced by the A.P.E. and Central Hampshire Veteran Services, includes panel discussions, poetry readings, and small theater productions, including “for Jude,” a new play co-written by Maxner that she’s adapted from “Occupied Territories.”
Though initially inspired by that latter play, “A Stone’s Throw,” Maxner said, is designed to offer a broader look at military experience — in war and in peacetime — and how family members are affected by it.
For instance, an exhibit and installation at A.P.E. itself, “Home/War/Home,” includes recorded testimonies from a range of people — veterans of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as career military personnel and their family members — who offer what Maxner calls “a wide and complex swath of perspectives.”
“This isn’t designed to take a political stance,” she said. “It’s not just about the trauma of war, though that’s part of it … hopefully (visitors) will be exposed to a much more complex picture of what it means to serve.”
She notes, for instance, that some of the people who were interviewed for the A.P.E. exhibit — those interviews are mixed with sound tapestries and heard on headphones — remain deeply proud of their military service, or in having connections to someone who served.
Maxner has worked also worked with John Paradis, an Air Force veteran and veterans’ activist who served in Afghanistan and Iraq — he’s also a former VA employee — and Steve Connor, Northampton’s director of veterans services, to pull the festival together.
In a phone interview, Paradis said one issue the festival explores is the enduring strain military service can put on families, given that active duty personnel often must relocate multiple times even during peacetime, uprooting children from school and friends.
“Being in a military family can require a lot of resiliency, a lot of adaptability, especially for children,” he said. “It’s not easy.”
In addition to “Home/War/Home,” the festival includes visual art displayed at City Hall, Memorial Hall, and Forbes Library — work collectively called “Waves of Healing” — and at Anchor House of Artists, a show called “Artful Bonds.”
That artwork has been crafted by veterans involved in a creative arts therapy program at the VA Medical Center in Leeds and those living at the nearby Soldier On residential unit, as well as vets, active duty military, and their families who are involved with another program, Warrior’s Art Room, in Easthampton.
Ripples and waves
For Maxner, though, “A Stone’s Throw” is still connected to her own family’s experience. The title itself, she notes, speaks in part “to the way someone’s military experience can ripple through the lives of the people around them,” just as a stone thrown into a pond creates waves.
“Home/War/Home,” for instance, is built in part around assemblages of stones, shells, crab carapaces, driftwood and other materials that her father, who has lived on Martha’s Vineyard since the 1990s, has created from items he collects on the beach.
A longtime musician, Steve Maxner turned to visual art about eight years ago, his daughter says, as another way of dealing with memories of Vietnam that still haunt him, and as part of his journey toward healing; he served in the military from 1969 to 1970.
“My dad struggled with PTSD, and it was probably 12 to 15 years before he got help,” said Maxner, who recalls being careful around her father when she was growing up so as not to upset him; as a young child, much of this was a mystery to her.
Today, many of Steve Maxner’s pieces still speak to the violence and death he witnessed half a century ago, with titles such as “Forgive me Johnny,” which he created to honor a troubled 19-year-old serviceman who he reported fit for duty; the young soldier shot himself shortly afterward, MollyeMaxner says.
Serving in Vietnam, she adds, was “a defining event” in her father’s life.
Along with Steve Maxner’s assemblages, including visual images of some of his larger pieces, “Home/War/Home” features digital photography and design created by Danny Nguyen, a U.S. veteran who was born in Vietnam and as a young boy came to Northampton in 1979 with his family as a refugee.
In fact, the family first stayed in the Maxners’ home, on Vernon Street, for a time after Steve Maxner sponsored their move to the U.S.; they later moved to Amherst, and Danny Nguyen now works as a photographer in Texas, Mollye Maxner says.
His art, she notes, looks at the varied experiences of his life, such as an attack that pirates launched against the boat his family was on as they initially fled Vietnam for Thailand.
One combined work by Nguyen and Steve Maxner features images of two of Maxner’s assemblages, which frame a haunting black and white photograph of a child, presumably Vietnamese, seated on the deck of a small wooden boat at sea.
“Home/War/Home” also includes some haiku by Joyce Maxner, Mollye’s mother, an experienced painter and felt maker. Her mother has turned to writing in recent years, Mollye Maxner says, to consider new ways of reflecting on her husband’s and family’s experiences.
Among the performance events at A.P.E., there will be five readings— Nov. 11-12 and 17-19 — of “for Jude,” the play Maxner has adapted from “Occupied Territories.” In the new drama, two adult sisters must confront their legacy as children of a Vietnam veteran on the night of their father’s funeral.
“There are so many levels to all of this,” said Maxner. She notes that the festival title also refers to a certain distance — the flight of a stone — which can also be seen as a gap in people’s understanding of what veterans have gone through.
“Hopefully this project will help us fill in some of those gaps,” she said.
“A Stone’s Throw,” the multi-tiered arts festival taking place in Northampton this month to recognize veterans and military families, has a number of different components.
One highlight is visual art by veterans and their family members, on view at the A.PE. Gallery, Anchor House of Artists, and at Forbes Library, City Hall, and Memorial Hall.
A.P.E. will also host the play “An Illiad” Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.; a poetry reading by veterans Nov. 5 at 2 p.m.; a reading of the play “for Jude” Nov. 11-12 and 17-19; and panel discussions Nov. 15 and 19.
And on Nov. 10 from 5-7 p.m., a reception for “A Stone’s Throw” takes place at the Hotel Northampton, at which the city will recognize Veterans Day Weekend and celebrate the festival with live music, food, and light refreshments.
Information about the festival will be available, and proceeds from the reception will be allocated to local veterans and their families through Soldier On and the Building Bridges Veteran Initiative. The fee is $50.
More information on the varied events and exhibits of “A Stone’s Throw” is available at apearts.org.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at [email protected]