Artist brightens Onset VFW with murals honoring military service

Feb 28, 2021

Wareham veterans who frequent the Dudley Brown VFW in Onset might have noticed a new, eye-catching tribute to their service on the walls — and it’s all thanks to a young artist with ties to the organization.

Shaez Gomes has spent months volunteering her talent and time to paint large, vibrant murals at the VFW. The biggest mural spans the back wall behind the VFW’s stage and features the emblems of each branch of the armed services on a blue background. 

Gomes, a 21-year-old Bridgewater State University student, has been working on the VFW artwork since early summer 2020. Although the mural featuring armed service emblems is now close to being finished, she said it isn’t complete just yet.

Her ties to the VFW are personal: Gomes’ mom, Erica Santos, and stepdad, Michael Roderick, are both involved. 

“My stepdad is a member and does a lot for the building here, and my mom might help and cook and volunteer at some of the functions that they used to do a lot before [covid],” Gomes said.

She said her stepdad first approached her about the VFW project. The vision for the mural changed many times in the months before she started painting, she explained. Originally, she said she was asked to paint something by the bar and then, briefly, in the hallway.

“Then I was like, ‘Can I just use this back wall?’” she said with a laugh. 

But deciding on a location didn’t mean the deliberations were over. Gomes said when she initially picked the blue background color, some people worried it was too bright.

“But then when I actually had it up, they were like, ‘Oh my goodness, it brightens the place up,’” Gomes said. “You can see it when you’re walking down the hall or just literally from anywhere.”

Next, Gomes taped off parts of the mural and sketched out the armed service emblems. She said she has hundreds of pictures of the emblems on her phone because she’s being careful to paint them as accurately as possible. 

“I’m trying to be respectful, and not make it too much of my own,” she said. “Because it’s for them. It’s for the members, the veterans. [...] That’s the motivation behind it.”

VFW members can’t seem to get enough of Gomes’ work, even while she’s still painting. 

“This has taken me a lot longer than I expected,” Gomes said. “But I was told to pace myself and enjoy it, because they’re enjoying seeing it go up.”

Winna Dean loved the art so much that she wanted to tell everyone in town about it. 

Julio Roderick, who served in the Air Force for 22 years and has been a member of the VFW for 30 years, led the way down to the VFW’s basement entertainment space — called “the bunker” — to proudly show off Gomes’ work on the indoor/outdoor mural painted there, which she completed over the summer.

“When they were closed over the summer, I did a mural outside,” Gomes said. She explained that she painted the Cape Verdean flag on one wall (because so many VFW members are Cape Verdean) and another veteran’s mural on the other. She described that mural as “a tribute to a fallen soldier.”

Gomes recalled when a former Marine came into the VFW and saw the mural with the armed service emblems for the first time. 

“He came in and his eyes were tearing up,” she said. He thanked Gomes for her work and gave her $100 for her supplies. 

The importance of the project really started to sink in for her then, Gomes said. “[The response has] been awesome,” she said. “That’s what’s motivating me more now.”

Her work on the VFW mural has caught the attention of ten business owners who want her to paint things in their buildings, Gomes said. She said the offers are exciting but a little stressful and overwhelming, because of school and work.

On top of taking 18 credit hours and painting at the VFW, Gomes also works two jobs. She is a teacher’s aide at a daycare in Bridgewater and works at Robertson’s Auto Body in Wareham three days a week. 

Gomes said she doesn’t work or paint on Sunday. But even that’s not really time off. “All of my work is due Sunday for class,” she said.

Gomes is a sophomore currently studying psychology and communication disorders. She said she’s changed her major a couple of times and isn’t sure what she wants to do after college yet.

For now, Gomes said she often comes by to work on the mural when the VFW is open. She purchased some of her materials herself and she volunteers her time.

“My mom’s been [...] cooking, helping for as long as I can remember since I was little,” Gomes said of the VFW. “So I don’t feel like I need to be paid when I’m doing stuff here. It’s like a family.”

She said support and encouragement from her dad, Anthony Gomes, and her mom and stepdad has been a big help.

“I had so much trouble just comprehending if I can do this,” Gomes said. 

But the results, prominently displayed on the walls of the VFW, speak for themselves.