John Margenau, Vietnam veteran, Kailua resident, and University of Hawaii student art mentor is our Hawaii VA Loans December 2013 Ambassador.

Here at Hawaii VA Loans, we are excited to profile a veteran like John who uses his gifts for creating art pottery to inspire and educate others. In addition to pursuing his own artistic endeavors in ceramics at the University of Hawaii, he is a volunteer mentor to the school’s burgeoning potters. He works side by side with students on pottery technique, and assists the University’s professors in their art instruction. As you will discover, John’s life and military service has led to his passion for art and his desire to pursue it.  His determination and fortitude as a soldier and artist is why we are honored to call him our December Ambassador.

Q&A with John Margenau

I sat down with John at his home in Kailua where he has lived for thirty years with his wife, Carla, and where he raised his two sons, Kyle and Scott.

Can you talk about John Margenau before he became Private Margenau? Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m one of eight kids – five boys and three girls. We lived close to the Milwaukee River where we would just play all day. I was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Explorer. I always liked challenges.

How did you join the military?

I volunteered for the draft when I was nineteen years old, rather than waiting to be drafted. I was drafted on September 15, 1967. How’s that for memory? I went to Basic Training and Infantry Training. Then I went to Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968. I was with the 1st Cavalry and stayed in Vietnam for one year. Altogether, I spent a year and nine months in the Army.

What was your feeling being young and being drafted?

I was nineteen and I thought I was invincible. Basic Training was a piece of cake. I could run all day and do all the PT and none of it bothered me. I thought it was an adventure.

What followed your tour of duty in Vietnam?

After the year in Vietnam, I went to Fort Benning, Georgia and then I got a three month drop in my service to go to college.

When did you discover your artistic skill?

I liked art in college, but I didn’t fit in because I had just come back from Vietnam.  I left school in 1970 after the Kent State shooting. The state of Wisconsin closed the schools due to protests and to prevent incidents, so I went down to Arizona. Eventually, I went back to community college and started taking ceramics again and really liked it. I figured I couldn’t do it as a living, because it would just be a struggle, so I went for a business degree and kept doing ceramics on and off.

How did you find a way to pursue your artistic talents?

After I retired from my job with the IRS here in Hawaii, I went to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts with ceramics as a focus at the University of Hawaii. I was sixty, and a BFA wasn’t going to help me, so I got advice to audit my classes instead.  For the last five years, in addition to creating my own artwork, I help mix all the glazes, load and unload kilns, and mentor the students.

How do you enjoy mentoring the students at UH?

I like working with them. The kids come in and the professors teach them how to do the work. Then I walk around, and if they are willing to accept the help, I work with them. Centering the clay is a hard thing, opening the clay is a hard thing, and I try to help them do things like that, talking with them, and encouraging them. I like to show others how I create a piece and watch them take it in their own direction.

What has been a highlight of your artwork?

I entered a Wounded Warrior program nationwide and I have a piece – a tree branch teapot – at the Department of Defense in Washington D.C. I would say that has been the highlight of my artistic career so far. I enjoy when people appreciate my pieces for their art quality and buy them for that reason.

Does your military experience influence your creative process and/or the pieces you create?

It’s a release. It keeps me focused.

What is your proudest accomplishment in the military?

I served with honor. That’s the only thing you can do. I am proud that I served.

Do you have advice for people who have friends or family members that are combat veterans?

Be supportive and let them just talk. Don’t be judgmental. When we came home from Vietnam, nobody wanted to talk about it. I think it’s really great today seeing the support for veterans. I also think the military should focus on educating the family on the post-traumatic stress that someone who has been in combat will experience.

Do you see art as a good method for veterans to use as a “release” like it helps you?

Yes. It’s a good thing. I met one veteran in particular where he was supposed to build a house and he built a miniature duplicate of the house he spent a year in while serving as a sniper in Afghanistan. For him, that was a release of what he had experienced over there, and he shared that with me. We could relate to each other. I have a strong bond with military people, even if they weren’t in combat. That one year in Vietnam did that.

Thank you, John, for taking the time to talk with me about your life and your art. All of us at Hawaii VA Loans are thankful for your service in Vietnam, for your continued support of Hawaii’s military community, and for your contributions to Hawaii’s artistic community. As our December 2013 Ambassador, John Margenau represents the values of perseverance and giving that Hawaii VA Loans holds dear.

Coming up, John’s ceramic pieces can be seen at the Punahou Carnival Art Gallery in February and at the Hawaii Craftsmen 2014 FORMable Feast. The images included in this profile show John and UH art students doing a form of pottery called Raku.