Sean Poynter: Healing Through Art

One local veteran has found peace through our tiny water community.

Sean Poynter is originally from Virgina and is now a nearby neighbor living in Pittsburgh (though he dreams of living in town), a husband, and an Air Force veteran with a powerful story of how Benicia has been a game changer for his life.

“I was in the United States Air Force for 29 years, and deployed quite a few times as a Combat Veteran,” he says.

“I served in Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), [and] Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) doing Air and Ground Transportation logistics of moving soldiers and materials.”

As with many who have served, Poynter deals with PTSD and all that comes along with that. Sometimes, though, helping hands just fall into place without us looking for them — which is exactly what happened when Poynter entered Creativity Unleashed Ceramics.

“I was looking for a ceramic statue that reminded me of my mom,” he says.

“I looked all over and came across Helene Haroutinian’s shop, and she had the figurine in the back of her studio that I was looking for. I was shocked she had one, so I drove to her location and I met Helene to work on it.”

That one day eight years ago kicked off a new trajectory for Poynter.

Art can help people create a more positive and calmer narrative within their lives, and Haroutinian has been a shepherd of this along the way.

“Helene taught me how to pick the colors, how you paint it, how to get used to the process of doing it … then I started into more projects,” he says. “I like it because the environment is safe for me as a veteran, the atmosphere is nice, the people are nice. Helene is very patient. Being in the military is very much ‘hurry up and get it done with,’ but here I don’t have the pressure. I’ve learned how to slow down, take my time, especially through painting a lot of nooks and crannies. I’ve also learned grounding skills, and it helps to socialize with people who go to her class.”

One of the biggest takeaways I had from our conversation is that Poynter appreciates Haroutinian’s acceptance of him as a whole. She meets him where he’s at by providing knowledgeable yet patient feedback. She’s set up time to work in her studio in partnership with the Martinez VA, and another veteran friend, Mike, has joined in on the class fun weekly for about a year now. Poynter loves to create patriotic items that are red, white, and blue, such as a blue ceramic truck with a big American flag across the back and other cool details, with Helene’s guidance.

“Sometimes I want to buy some of her finished Ceramics and she says, ‘why buy it when you can make it yourself the way you like it?’ Helene is a great supporter for Veterans,” Poytner says.

These art classes have given Poynter time to explore the town of Benicia, which in itself has been healing.

“I really like Benicia,” he says. My wife and I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast Inn by the water for her birthday on a Tuesday, then went to Helene’s class on Wednesday. My wife likes to browse the consignment shop by the art studio. Benicia gives you that old town ambiance. I’ve become  a succulent-holic as part of my PTSD healing. I’ll go to the succulent store in town and buy all of these succulents. My wife and I will drive down to the pier — that helps with the PTSD, just being by the water.” 

Making art does, without a doubt, remain Poynter’s favorite, though.

“When I drive over the Benicia Bridge from Pittsburg, CA, to go to her class, I call it my mini vacation,” he says. “It’s a distraction from life.”

Classes are mainly on Wednesdays, but Haroutinian will also set up other appointment times if you inquire. Both veterans and non-veterans alike are welcome. Even if you don’t want to get in on the artistic action yourself, the next time you’re in the Arsenal area, pop into Helene’s Wednesday classes to get a chance at meeting Sean.

Creativity Unleashed Ceramics is located in the Benicia Arsenal district at 946 Tyler St # B.