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Paintings, the Voice of Military Spouse

Shelley Vanderbyl is an artist and military spouse who created a series of oil paintings titled, Beyond My Husband’s Quarters, capturing her personal relationship to the military in her work.

Although the experience of painting the series was unique to her, she felt the insights she gained would engage military families, and others who might consider themselves outsiders to the military ethos.

“As spouses, we often wonder how we fit in with the military? Through my art I explore how we relate to an organization that we don’t belong to, but has tremendous power over our lives,” explained Vanderbyl. “I’ll want to share how making art changed my relationship to the military, and how this project helped me find my own purpose in military life.”


Newly married to a military member, Vanderbyl felt she had a choice to make, stay tucked out of the way and not interfere with what she did not understand, or go outside her comfort zone. She decided to find her own purpose, and make her own fun. The series of paintings she created is a result of her foray into the world of the military.

“The paintings convey my venture into the unfamiliar. I think most people initially experience the military as cold and restrictive. It was against this backdrop I found myself an outsider, staying temporarily in an unfamiliar base while my husband was taking a course,” said Vanderbyl.

From her small hotel room she began to look at her situation for inspiration. She had left one home and had not yet settled in a new one. All Vanderbyl had were her surroundings, her new relationship, and the military.

“I was looking for a place to belong. I was restless. In line with my philosophy, I strove to look for beauty in unlikely places. I determined to face my intimidation, focusing on the things I could relate to among the unfamiliar,” she explained.

As she began her field work Vanderbyl determined her first step was to test where she was permitted, or not permitted to move around at 17 Wing. The series became a reflection of that journey, of being granted or denied access to spaces, even spaces as innocuous as the laundry room. People in charge had trouble with the fact that she was not always able to define her reason for entering a place, she was simply curious. She found she experienced space differently knowing she had limited time there.

Vanderbyl’s Beyond My Husband’s Quarters series is about human experience, about conveying a feminine, domestic view into the Royal Canadian Airforce. In the vast and lonely spaces she explored she found a quiet, still beauty and painted its essence. Her paintings are about having a voice in the military world, about choosing to make her own fun, her own life, and finding her own purpose on the journey.


Shelley Vanderbyl is a Canadian-born painter who has lived and traveled Western Europe, and lives a nomadic life across Canada as a military wife. She currently resides with her family in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a small prairie city whose concealed, impalpable beauty is unconsciously layered into her work. She executes soft, intimate and atmospheric representational images in oils to nurture and care for her audience.

Her experience of suffering and loss at a young age impels her to mine unlikely elegance and grace from the broken, the torn-up, and the brutal. She ascribes to finding joy and even whimsy, in places she feels beauty is most unlikely to be found.

To see more of Vanderbyl’s work please visit her website (

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Vicki L Morrison

Thanks to her husband's military career Vicki reinvented herself as a writer so she could work from home, while taking care of their three kids. A former MFRC executive director Vicki is a passionate advocate for military families who loves telling their stories.

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Canadian Military Family Magazine