Jesse Albrecht. Suicide Hotline (I've Called), 2017. Lowfire ceramic, 15.5 x 10.5 x 10.5 in.I was on my way to a graduate school life-drawing class when, on a giant tv in the student union, I saw a plane fly into the World Trade Center. Three semesters later I was in Iraq, deployed as a medic with the Iowa National Guard.   

They didn’t issue me my aid bag. They also forgot to give me the ceramic plates (SAPI, or Small Arms Protective Insert) for body armor that would stop bullets, until just before I came home.  

My squad ran daily security missions outside the wire in and around Mosul, Iraq, in addition to taking care of our medic duties. We supported a children’s hospital in western Mosul. On one mission, as I sat holding a light machine gun in the back of our Mad Max gun truck, I had the craziest realization: I was seeing the ruins of Nineveh, the crowning jewel of the Assyrian Empire. (Don’t sleep through Art History.)  

I make my work like the Iraq war—poorly crafted and executed. 

Through my work in ceramics, I hope to show people the emotional aesthetic of war imprinted on me. Maybe it will provide a tiny glimpse behind the curtain, myth, and rhetoric that are sold and packaged as war. I make artwork about war not because I enjoy it or want to, but because I have to. It is important to me that people feel what war does to those who serve. It’s something that isn’t really talked about, because it is ugly and disturbing, and a conversation about it leaves everyone feeling worse about themselves, usually destroying the evening. Really talking about war challenges our national narrative and all it veils.    

The physicality of clay, both of the material itself and of the community required for working with it, helped me transition back to ceramics post-Iraq. Wood-firers Mike Weber, Don Bendel, Al Tennant, and Don Reitz—all veterans and ceramic artists—have been integral to my re-entry to clay post-combat. The LH Project, in northeast Oregon, and its Veteran Residency Session provided me the time and space to launch a new body of work (War Crocks) and forge bonds with veteran ceramic artists Ehren Tool, Daniel Donovan, Ash Kyrie, and Thomas Orr. Ceramics hadn’t changed, even though I had, it and its people welcomed me home in a deep and profound way—magical and mystical, like the earth and fire we are all entranced by.  

I didn’t have the ceramics that would stop bullets when I was in Iraq, but I have been saved by clay.  Not in a warm and fuzzy feeling way, but more of a choking sob-, suicide-, night terror-, overdose-, prison-kind of way.  

Don’t kid yourself thinking art has healed me. I made it for you. 

At Right: Jesse Albrecht. Suicide Hotline (I've Called), 2017. Lowfire ceramic, 15.5 x 10.5 x 10.5 in. Albrecht started this piece at the LH Project Veteran Residency, 2015. It is inspired by his Department of Veterans Affairs suicide hotline card and his experience calling the hotline (summer, 2010) that prompted an armored police escort to the hospital.
[Read more] from The Dirty Canteen members Daniel Donovan, Ash Kyrie, and Ehren Tool.