UNCG Magazine

Veteran Jessica Rambo, on her unique journey

After the military, Jessica Rambo came to UNCG to pursue a BFA and possibly an MFA. In the middle of her undergraduate program, though, her work with veteran resources in both UNCG and the broader Greensboro community took her down a different path: She now lives as a nomad in the Painted Buffalo Traveling Studio, taking arts resources to veterans around the country. 

When Rambo came to UNCG, she found some things easy: The military had given her mental maturity and an ability to work under pressure to short deadlines. While at UNCG, she volunteered with the UNCG Veterans Center, and with the Servants Center in a nearby neighborhood.  These communities helped support her vision of “bringing more awareness to veteran artists and helping veterans tell their stories through art.” She and her art, as well as her volunteer work with the Veterans Center, were a key part of a feature article on Spartan students who were veterans.

But there was another side to it, too: “During art school,” she says, “I struggled with drugs and alcohol, a byproduct of military life.” But she credits her professors, counselors, and the Veterans Center at UNCG with helping her detox from addiction, buy her first bus, and start a non-profit.

That’s right, her first bus. A retired marching band bus, Painted Buffalo 1.0 was her first home after she left UNCG to follow “the path of travel, advocacy, and art.” She’s building out their second in Kentucky—it’s 10 feet longer, and has space for a newly installed Glowforge laser engraver. 
Over the last four years, Rambo and her family have taken the Painted Buffalo over 55,000 miles through 37 states. They are currently working on the Paint Can Project. “We fill retired ammo cans with art supplies and hand them out to veterans wanting to tell their own story through art.” 

In three years, they’ve handed out 200 of those cans to veterans around the nation, and are looking forward to doubling that number this year. As quickly as it’s grown, they are always accepting “donations, art supplies and veteran friendly products.”

Though the project has grown beyond Greensboro, Rambo keeps many connections here and calls it home, stopping in a few times a year. She still hopes to one day finish her BFA and complete a master’s program. But in the meantime, the road is calling—the Painted Buffalo Traveling Studio will be making its way across the nation this year, including “an epic road trip to Alaska with other(military) veteran nomads.”  

By Colin Cutler ’16 MA

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