Elise Wigle - The Artist and The Vet

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Many of us who are old enough can remember where we were on 9/11. Elise Wigle was in her sophomore year of Art School at Carnegie Mellon University. Like so many of our brothers and sisters, Elise decided to take action. She dropped out of University to join the fight as a Heavy Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic in the Army. Her brother, Roger Wigle, had already enlisted in the Marine Corps and that guided Elise’s decision to join. They would serve at the same time and eventually deploy overseas simultaneously. This was super stressful for their parents.

Elise grew up with her family near in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania surrounded by all the beauty the Appalachian Mountains portion of the state has to offer. The area has a history of being an agricultural community, and its position near the mountains makes it a great place for outdoor recreation. Elise would thrive on this.

Country life inspired a naturalistic perspective of the world in which she cherished the outdoors and came to understand that she liked to learn how to do things on her own. Independence was a standard rather than something to be delayed for a later time. She helped her family with their small farm, rode four wheelers, fished and took pleasure in any opportunity to get her hands dirty or learn a new self-sustaining skill. Growing up in a house with a heavy male influence, she was surrounded by trucks and guns.

These traits would follow her into her military career and beyond. When asked about the good times she had during her tour of service, she recalled times where she was closest to nature: “When things felt more like camping than working, that was cool.” She tries not to see the experience as good or bad, but a blend of the two that creates something different altogether, something a lot closer to reality.

Today Elise’s life is a cacophony of the many lives so many of us have strung together. Veterans go through dramatic changes in their lives, from enlisting and leaving everything else behind, to coming home broken after war. The people that we become in the wake of these events all have to merge at some point. It’s not the same for everyone but putting those pieces in order is crucial for anyone whose changed as a person; progressively or regressively. It’s important to find a healthy balance. That looks different for all of us; Veterans as well as civilians. Elise finds balance in art.

Elise works as an art instructor at St. Vincent College in Latrobe and wedding planner while also raising two children. The most interesting thing that came up in our conversation, though there were many, was something that happened when I brought up her favorite color. Being a visual artist, Elise couldn’t give me an answer for this seemingly simple question. No color pleases her more than any other. They all blend and become the next color at some point, and she is highly in tune with this phenomenon. When she creates something, she doesn’t see color. Most of her work is done in its absence. She works heavily in greyscale and typically only uses color to elicit feeling. Blue might be electric or red for anger or pain. A lot of her technique is bound to her memories of events, which she can often only see in black and white.

We talked about the stars. Elise loves the stars. She loves the world and nature and everything that she says used to bring us closer together as humans. I’m sure most of us Veterans can remember in our training a time when we witnessed the stars through the veil of night vision goggles. We remember when the sky burst open to us for the first time in a blanket of bright green dots and darkness. For people like Elise, these are the kinds of things that are recollected in as much detail as the brain can muster. She chooses beauty. And we all have choices to make.

Allyson Holtz