by Tim Froberg
As a former U. S. Navy Petty Officer, Laura Taylor knows what makes military veterans tick.
Her ability to put their courage and character on canvas is her way of honoring these true heroes. The Little Chute resident is an accomplished independent artist whose work has been displayed in military exhibits, offices and veterans hospitals across the country. Her efforts to recognize veterans and touch their souls through her art has even appeared on television in a 2017 GEICO Military commercial as part of the annual CNN Heroes program.
Taylor balances her artwork with a full-time job as a Director of Marketing and New Business Development at Hi-Tech Plastics in Kaukauna. But art remains a huge part of her life. Taylor has been creating paintings and drawings since 1988 and selling commission art since 2010. She’s also worked as art instructor since 2014 and currently serves on the Board of Directors for a national nonprofit known as the Veteran Art Institute. The organization promotes the work of more than 1000 military veterans artists like Taylor – bringing attention to their stories and helping them share their work through a website built by Veteran Volunteers.
“I got into art at a pretty young age, and by high school, I knew for sure I wanted to be an artist,” said Taylor, a 1990 Kaukauna high school graduate.
Taylor has done more than 60 commissioned art pieces, working in media including oil, acrylics, markers, ink, watercolor, and even wine and whiskey. She has studied at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and holds a degree in Visual Communications from Brown College.
One of Taylor’s specialties is military paintings and drawings including portraits of local service veterans. On several occasions she has attended military events in the area, observed certain veterans in attendance, study their faces, and created portraits of them. She has then surprised them by gifting them with their portraits.
Dennis Green, a former US Marine Corps veteran who lives in Kaukauna, was the first veteran to receive a Portrait from Taylor after she noticed him at a Veterans Service as he was standing guard, with the Patriot Guard Riders, for one of our local fallen soldiers in Appleton.
“It’s been my way of thanking them for their service,” Taylor said. “In most cases, I didn’t even know who the veteran was before I did the portrait. When I first did the portrait of Dennis, he had no idea who I was and that he was going to be the subject of a portrait. He was shocked but had such gratitude. I have such a wonderful friendship with him now. “
“That’s how it all started. I have built long-term friendships with many of them. There is such a strong connection you share with them. There is a relationship that is beyond words. There are such great stories behind every veteran. Everyone has walked a different life and has a different story to tell. Somewhere in combat. Some were not. Some just supported others directives. But everyone at some point took the oath and committed 100% to the country.
“For me, the opportunity to do my paintings of them and reward them for their loyalty, well, it’s something I wish I could do 24/7.”
Taylor was a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, serving four years of active duty and working with the Naval Weapons Test Squadron in Pt. Mugu, CA as a Jet Mechanic and Plain Captain.
“I was kind of a wild little soul who needed to calm herself down a bit, so I joined the service,” Taylor said. “I needed some structure. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
While stationed near Malibu, California, Taylor worked to keep a F-14 and F-18 planes humming: the same jets used in the filming of the summer blockbuster movie “Top Gun: Maverick.”
“The first time I saw it (Top Gun: Maverick), I don’t know if it was the nostalgia or what, but I cried through half of it,” Taylor said. “I went back to see it a second time and was really able to appreciate it.”
Taylor grew up in a military family. Her father, Dan Meisenhelder, with a Vietnam veteran, and Laura has several relative including aunts, uncles, cousins, parents and grandparents who served in the military. Laura’s husband, Jeff Taylor, is also US Navy veteran.
“My dad was with me the first time I gifted Dennis with the portrait,” Taylor said. “It was the first time he had attended anything veteran-related after his service time. It was an emotional day for him. He got me to realize that this was not only a unique gift for someone – it was a healing gift for him and for everyone in attendance. He got to connect with another veteran that he hadn’t seen in years. That same veteran performed military funeral honors for my father a year later.
“My dad was definitely my driving force. He’s the reason why I have the passion to do this forever – so I can honor his legacy.”
Taylor talks about her father, who passed away nine years ago, in the Geico Military commercial, which was filmed in 2017. The 60–second story focuses on Taylor’s generosity and gifting veterans with their portraits.
Taylor’s art was also featured in the 2015 book, “Stars & Stripes: The American Flag in Contemporary Art.” The book had a complementary exhibit with the author, E. Ashley Rooney, at the Zenith Gallery in Washington, D.C. and Taylor attended the showing with family members and relatives. Taylor was also selected in 2017 by the VA as one of 10 veteran women to participate in the inaugural Women Veterans Art Exhibit: Celebrating 100 Years of Enlisted Military Service for Women.
Along with the portraits of service veterans, Taylor has created other exceptional paintings and drawings with military theme such as one entitled “A Long Walk Home”, which shows a pair of weathered military boots serving as a flower planter on the porch with an American flag attached. The boots for Taylor’s actual flight line boots from her Navy days. The picture is one of Taylor’s most published works.
“The veteran portraits have been the favorite part of my career as an artist,” said Taylor. “Sadly, many of the veterans I’ve done portraits of have passed away. I’ve been invited to their funerals which means a lot to me.
Taylor’s artwork isn’t confined to military themes. Her paintings and drawings cover a variety of subjects including animals, architecture and landscape.
“I have a full-time job and career outside of art, but I still consider art to be a full-time career too” said Taylor. “I just love being busy.”
Taylor also paints and draws – just for the fun of it. “My favorite medium to work with is wine,” Taylor said. “Wine makes for such a beautiful piece of work.”