The Winona couple pay tribute to veterans with unique works of art
“There’s a story about everything here,” said Bill Kozlowski, a US Army and National Guard veteran. “I’ve always liked being different in my life, so I started trying to do strange and different things.”
The couple’s garage has been converted into an artistic workspace, which they like to share with their neighbors.
“We’re just saying come on, and make sure you look up to the ceiling and look around,” says Kozlowski’s wife Lois. “It’s just that we like to do it, pick up unusual things.”
Patriotic messages, cards and labels line the walls.
Some pieces incorporate these embossed license plate letters that each had their own journey.
“It’s fantastic what he does, and they look good,” exclaims Tim Reed, a resident of Winona and an Army National Guard veteran. “The license plates, they jump out at you because it’s not just lettered, they’re all plates, and then he finishes them off, and they come out.”
For nearly a decade, the couple traveled across the country, visiting thirty states and collecting 5,000 plaques.
“People have garbage in their backyards, lots of used cars with small lots, salvage yards,” Kozlowski notes. “We love the plates with the letters in relief, they really have a lot of character and a lot of color.”
Back home, he cuts out individual letters to spell words and special messages.
One of the most popular is “veteran”.
“There aren’t a lot of people doing that much work, and it’s for the veterans,” Reed says. “I was an army veteran, so he made up a sign for me. Then I have my brother Bruce, he’s a Vietnam vet, so I’m going to pick one for him. He was a soldier during the Vietnam War. ”
Kozlowski says he’s created around 300 of the signs so far – nailing the letters to a wooden background, then protecting the artwork with two coats of polyurethane.
Veterans, he says, are grateful.
“I love it when they really come over to give you a hug, and I just think that’s the coolest thing there is,” he smiles.
He and Lois presented several coins to veterinarians in the Winona area in honor of Veterans Day.
“I think it’s a great tribute to all the men and women,” she said. “Everyone really appreciates it, every once in a while there’s a little tear, but it’s – we do it out of love and ‘thank you very much’ to them.”
The Kozlowskis created other works of art, including an American flag made from bottle caps – a project they completed 15 years ago.
But they hope the signs will touch the hearts of veterans the most.
“I just like to put smiles on their faces,” Kozlowski says. “That’s the satisfaction I get from it. It fills my day.”