“Colorado vet shines at VA festival and beyond”
Jim Stevens, Rocky Mountain Regional Group and blinded Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Army, won the Special Recognition Award at the national judging of the VA Creative Arts Festival.
The recognition from among nearly 1,900 artist entrees was for Jim’s monochromatic graphite drawing entitled “Biafra.” The piece was on display at the VA National Art Show in the Great Hall at the Massachusetts State House on October 12. He was also honored by his home city of Wheat Ridge, Colorado (a suburb of Denver), at a city council meeting on July 23 for having garnered the honor.
Judging for the national Creative Arts Festival is an almost year-long process that involves several levels of evaluation and ratings.
The winning drawing can be viewed on Jim’s own website, https://www.scrimshawstudio.com/prints/biafra.html.
In 1970, while a Sergeant in the Army, Jim was shot in the head during a combat mission in Vietnam. The injury left him with bullet fragments and severe migraines that eventually caused a stroke in his visual cortex 23 years later. He was suddenly legally blind with only a pindot of vision in both eyes.
Soon thereafter, Jim lost both his teaching job at the University of Colorado and his wife. He was left as a single parent with two young daughters. He also stopped doing the artwork he had loved so much.
“In 2000, I determined to reinvent myself and become a full-time artist despite my disability,” he said. “I began by finding a variety of special lenses to help with my technical skills and then struggled to relearn my craft for the next two years.” At the same time, at the urging of his daughters, he began the unlikely study of the martial arts.
Despite the setbacks and frustrations, Jim refused to give up on either of his new life goals. Today, his art is galleried across the country and his work collected internationally. He has written three books on art (Schiffer Publishing) and was recently honored by the Kennedy Center as a registered VSA Artist (Vision, Strength, and Artistic Expression) in both the visual and literary arts.
At age 51, he also became the only legally blind and also the oldest man to ever win the men’s fighting competition in the martial arts “Tournament of Champions,” an event with martial artists of all ages from across the country. He is also the only blind martial artist to ever be awarded a black belt in Shaolin Kenpo karate and is also a black belt in Taekwondo.
Three-time Emmy award winning screen writer Paul Cooper found out about Jim and is working on a screenplay about his life.
“I only want to encourage fellow BVA members with my story,” he said. “Like all of us, I have felt overwhelmed by the challenges in front of me but little reminders, such as my daughter’s ‘Daddy, you promised not to quit’ have been enough to make me stiffen my resolve and keep moving forward with my life.”
Blinded Veterans Association Bulletin
August 21, 2012