By Taylor Shunk
Army Veteran Juan Cantu considers himself extremely lucky. “I had a mortar land right behind me and it didn’t explode,” said Cantu as he recalled his brush with death. Unfortunately, luck wouldn’t always be on his side. While serving 15 months in Iraq as a combat medic, Cantu witnessed unthinkable things. “I really started turning into a different person,” said Cantu. “I was falling to pieces.” He would eventually return home with a traumatic brain injury, ruptured ear drum, dislocated shoulder and post-traumatic stress disorder. His PTSD would end up being his most pressing issue. “I was trying to cover up pain and fear,” said Cantu. “Next thing I know I’m an addict.” Thankfully, he was able to get addiction help through Dover VA and is proudly 3 years sober.
Cantu also sought help at the Dover VA for his PTSD. He attended numerous support groups but relief was hard to come by. “I tried all kind of treatments and medications,” said Cantu. “But nothing worked and it was going on 10 years.” During one of the groups, a friend suggested that he try art therapy. “The VA didn’t offer art therapy near Milford,” said Cantu. “So, I decided to give it a go on my own.” Art ended up changing his life. “This is the only thing that ever worked for me and it was instant,” said Cantu.
Cantu began doing collage work, but he soon realized that finances would be an issue. “I went to all the craft stores for supplies and realized how expensive everything was,” said Cantu. “I really wanted an arts and crafts thrift store.” So, he started going to thrift stores and auctions every weekend, gathering cheap or free materials he could use to turn into art. Then in May of 2018 he was able to open his own art studio, Uroboric Salvage, in Milford. “Everything I use is salvaged except the glue,” said Cantu.
After all the struggles Cantu has been though, he can really relate to the meaning of Uroboric. “It’s an ancient symbol that represents something that is constantly regenerating itself,” said Cantu. “Taking something broken or unwanted and finding a new use for it.” He plans to use the studio as a creative use space. “I want to have tables for workshops…art and food,” said Cantu. “Artists and teachers can combine their skills.” Cantu also founded the Milford Artist Collective. “I want people to get into art,” said Cantu. “And I’m willing to let people use anything I have.” In the near future he wants to get together with local artists and open a large gallery in Milford. He also wants to fund the project with a thrift store. “I don’t want to have any member dues,” said Cantu. “I want artists to keep profits for themselves.”
Recently, Cantu did a mental health talk at Lifecycle in downtown Milford. “Jenn Rowan was really pushing me into telling my story,” said Cantu. He credits Ben and Jenn from Lifecycle with changing how he feels about Milford. Cantu felt like he never belonged. “Growing up I was one of only 3 Hispanic kids in my school,” said Cantu. “Today Lifecycle is very inclusive of everyone.” He eventually hope have these same talks with kids and veterans. “I want them to know that nothing in life is trash,” said Cantu. “Plus I can relate to them because I experienced a lot of things.”
Cantu is settling into life now. “I finally found where I belong,” said Cantu. “It’s not how I pictured my life going but I really enjoy every day.”
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