Painful numbers: Artist brings awareness to veterans’ suicides

DOVER — The number 22 sticks in artist Scott LoBaido’s mind like a painful embedded thorn. It’s not just the number, but rather, what it represents.

It’s been that way ever since that day four years ago, when Mr. LoBaido found out that 22 veterans a day commit suicide in the United States. That number, he says, is not only disgusting, but it is unacceptable.

So, the patriotic Staten Island, New York-based artist decided to do something about it to bring awareness to the tragic situation. He created a powerful ‘22’ sculpture that he is currently touring among the original 13 U.S. colonies, hence, the name of his “22-13” tour.

Mr. LoBaido’s solemn tribute will be making an appearance at the Walter L. Fox American Legion Post 2 at 835 South Bay Road next Monday and Tuesday as part of his tour to bring veteran suicide to the public’s consciousness.

He will be speaking at 7:30 p.m. and the statue will slowly light up at 7:45 and will stay lit until 11:45 each night. A song by Coldplay titled “Fix You” will play in the background.

“It’s been about four years since I found out about the number 22 in my last tour,” said Mr. LoBaido, who was visiting veteran’s posts in all 50 states in 2015 and painting American flags on them when he discovered the grim reality of veteran suicides. “I went to every state and I found out about that number 22 and I wrote that number on palm of my hand with a Sharpie. It has been there ever since.

“That number is absolutely disgusting. I knew right then that I needed to go around and bring attention to this issue.”

Mr. LoBaido’s ‘22’ sculpture depicts a pair of twos facing each other covered in an American flag design, in which the white stripes feature a collage of all the wars the United States has participated in. The opposing numbers create an empty heart between them.

The sculpture’s base features 22 pairs of empty boots, each lit up with battery-operated candles, and it is surrounded by 22 life-size figures lit up with LED lighting that represent the 22 veteran souls lost each day.

It is a powerful — and chilling — sight.

“I think it’s an extremely important message that the artist is trying to spread,” said Chip Rosan, Adjutant for the American Legion Post 2. “That message is that we’re losing 22 veterans to suicide a day and these guys need all the help they can get.

Scott LoBaido

“I see a lot of the pain first-hand. You can see guys sitting there having a beer at the Legion and all of a sudden they start to cry. Taking care of our veterans is important and I think that’s the biggest reason that we need to get a lot of people out there to see the sculpture next Monday and Tuesday nights and hear the message (that Mr. LoBaido will present).”

A ‘calling’ to create patriotic art

Mr. LoBaido said that he found his calling for patriotic art while working in New York City.

“I’ve been an artist my while life,” he said. “Back in ’90s, I was invited to work at a gallery in big city New York and when I walked in there was an American flag on the floor and visitors were invited to wipe their feet on it. It was at a time when patriotism had taken a big dip in this country.

“I was completely dumbfounded by the great deal of hatred there was towards the American flag and all that is good in America. In the art world we have more rights than most people with the art that we create. It’s because of men and women who fought (in wars) that we have this flag – this right.”

Since then, Mr. LoBaido has completed three cross country state tours since 2006 painting flags across America to promote patriotism and celebrate veterans.

“A lot of people don’t realize it, but I never served in the military,” he said, ‘but it’s an honor to help celebrate those who did.”

The artist selected American Legion Post 2 as the Delaware canvas for his Fifty State Tour in 2015. That was when he painted an American flag on a front wall of the building just behind the airplane that sits on its’ front lawn off Bay Road in southeast Dover.

“I love the challenge to try to figure out how to do something different with each American flag that I paint,” said Mr. LoBaido. “I make sure there’s always something a little bit different with each one.”

It wasn’t quite as big a project as the one he undertook from June 14 until July 4, 2010, when he painted the world’s largest version of the Stars and Stripes in Houston, Texas, next to Hobby Airport. The flag is 150,000 square feet (3.5 acres), which took 900 gallons of paint to complete.

Tour all about changing outcomes

He said the “22-13” Tour that he is currently on is one that is particularly close to his heart, adding that it’s his most important creative mission.

“Each day 22 of our veterans die by their own hand,” Mr. LoBaido said. “Now it is time to help the injuries and pain in the minds of these heroes.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder is the number one issue. Many organizations are now taking notice, but not enough, fast enough. Some new data says the number (of veteran suicides per day) is 20, but that survey does not include all states. Be it 20 or 22, these numbers are horrendous.”

He added, “This patriotic art tour is to heighten awareness to this severe crisis and grab the attention of the nation and figure out how to bring this number down. They sacrificed for us. Let us return the favor.”

The “22-13” Tour began on March 9 in Savannah, Georgia, and will end on April 24 in New Hampshire. Dover will be the sixth stop as Mr. LoBaido nears the midway point of the tour.

When it comes to creating patriotic art, Mr. LoBaido’s goals are:

— Invent new ways to portray Old Glory and promote the greatness of America through his vibrant paintings, sculptures and installation.

— Use art of unify a nation, especially in troubling times.

— Attract the attention of children to view the American flag on a contemporary, bold stage.

— Bring attention and awareness to the real celebrities of America, our heroes, our veterans.

When it comes to his artwork, Mr. LoBaido definitely lives the part of a “starving artist.” His current tour, which he projects will cost a total of $37,000 to complete, is being funded by a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/battle-to-preserve-patriotism. He added that people are welcome to contact him for donations also at scott@scottlobaido.com.

The ultimate goal, for Mr. LoBaido, is not to get rich but to just make a difference.

“With my art, I’ve sought to make a difference in the world as a man and as an American,” he said. “Whether a Boomer, Gen-Xer, or Millennial, it’s easy in modern times to forget the origins of our prosperity and freedom. The wondrous and instant nature of our technology and culture can make it easy to forget how we got here.

“And so, I became fascinated with preserving the symbols of the countless brave Americans who stood, fought, marched and sacrificed so much for our livelihood. I am no history scholar, but I sense in the basics of my being, preserving our past is the truest way to honor our future.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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