Solana Beach artist makes drawings for VA patients

"Nothing Too Big You Can't Handle" by Joel Harris

Solana Beach artist Joel Harris has been using his work to connect with aging veterans who are rehabbing at VA hospitals and unable to see visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each week, Harris meets with a VA staff member to turn in hand-drawn pictures that are distributed to those in rehab, particularly those with spinal cord injuries. Harris, 77, has a long history of using his work for volunteer efforts in community centers, libraries and other venues.

Harris began developing his drawing talents as a child in his native Chicago, when he had polio at 3 and couldn’t walk for several years.

“I pursued the drawing because it really opened up my mind,” he said. “It gave me another way of dealing with not being able to walk and feeling like I didn’t fit in the world.”

But he said he looks back on his battle with polio as “almost like a godsend thing.”

“If that wouldn’t have happened, then I would not have been able to have the experience of working with these guys who are paralyzed at the VA,” Harris said.

His service to the community over the years has included work with special-needs children and adults at North Coast Fellowship in Solana Beach, and bedside therapeutic drawing lessons for paraplegics, quadriplegics and patients with spinal cord injuries at the VA Medical Center in La Jolla.

“Some of these guys were really young and in one minute their lives were turned around,” said Harris, who also started a therapeutic visual arts program for veterans called the Art of Healing Heroes.

“I need to be able to use the gift that was given to me,” he added. “They really need support and help.”

Harris said one of his sayings is that “wherever you are is your living room.” He has lived in Solana Beach for about 25 years.

“It’s the most sane, comfortable, quiet place in California that has the best weather that there is,” he said.

Through his drawing and connections throughout the community, Harris said he has been able to preserve the “magic of life,” and hopes to experience it in person again once the pandemic is over.

“My last adventure is to do the things that I can do as the best person I can be, get rid of all the things that don’t work for me and apply all the things I have found that do,” he said.