From Baghdad with watercolor love—Wellsville Foreign Service specialist sends “art envelopes” worldwide

WELLSVILLE — Chris Jeppson has spent the past 10 months in Iraq, posted in Baghdad as a facility manager in the Foreign Service.  During that time, the longtime Cache Valley resident has developed a hobby that allows him to connect with friends and loved ones in a unique and meaningful way—creating personalized “art envelopes” he has painted and mailed around the world. Working 60-plus hours each week, Jeppson crafts the envelopes and writes the letters inside them during his downtime.

“Once I tried one of these, I realized how valuable it was for me,” he said. “I struggle with loneliness and a feeling of isolation while I’m here in Baghdad, and that whole time I’m doing the envelope, it feels to me like a virtual Skype session I’m having with the recipient. After I’m done, I literally feel like I’ve had a long, meaningful conversation with this person, and it’s become a very effective and therapeutic anecdote for loneliness for me. It’s been a great way for me to deal with being here without loved ones. It’s the way I cope with it.”

Jeppson spends three to four hours on each envelope he sends, and he’s painted more than 50 so far. He’s mailed them throughout the United States and to Foreign Service posts in places like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Prague (Czech Republic) and Dohan (Qatar).  The first four went home to his family in Wellsville.

Jeppson’s wife, Allyson, and their three sons—Ethan (18), Dalton (16) and Seth (14)—have been able to accompany him on most of his posts during the past five years, but they were prohibited from joining him in Iraq. The family will be reunited in mid-August, when Jeppson’s next assignment takes them to Portugal.

“It felt like we needed our kids to see the diversity that comes with living outside of Utah and the United States, and they really have benefited,” Jeppson said of the family’s international lifestyle. “They realize how blessed we are as Americans because they’ve seen how little of those blessings most other people in the world have.”

While he’s been posted in Baghdad, Jeppson has taken the opportunity to reflect deeply on his own blessings, largely focusing on his relationships with the family members and friends who have most richly influenced his life. As he determines where his next envelope will go, he considers the meaningful connections in his life—colleagues from previous assignments overseas, companions from his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and relatives and neighbors back home.

“I created a list of those people, and currently there’s about 25 people I’m still trying to make envelopes for,” he said. “They’re heartfelt, they’re a theme that I pick, and the letter I write inside is almost, in many cases, more important to me than the art.”

Jeppson said his first envelopes featured themes related to his environment in Iraq—a gecko lizard, a military vehicle and the expansive starry night sky. While he chose the themes feeling like the recipients would appreciate them, his approach soon changed.

“I started diverting away from things here to just something that would define the recipient the best way I could,” he said, “and I think about that person for quite a few days trying to decide.”

For example, Jeppson’s mother, Brenda Bateman Jeppson, said the envelope he designed for his grandmother, Sybil Bateman, just before her passing in January was perfect. Chris Jeppson was raised near his grandparents’ dairy farm in West Jordan—the Bateman Dairy Farm. Brenda Jeppson said her son “got some of his character traits at that farm” and created a treasured keepsake representing the family’s heritage.

“Chris knows the cows, knows the farm, knows my mother, and he sent her one with a big old cow on the front of it,” she said. “It was so beautifully done. It was really a prize for her, just a joy that she was getting this special art in the mail from Chris with a little letter.”

Another particularly memorable envelope went to Sasha Savchenko, an engineer Jeppson worked with during a three-year assignment in Moscow, Russia. Savchenko’s envelope was painted with an illustration of a bike the men built together and images of a mountain peak and lupine flowers, representing several unforgettable trips.

“I’m really happy to be among that envelope list of those closest friends of his,” Savchenko said. “I was very touched by the thing he’s doing because he’s a quite good or even great artist. I’m holding that piece in front of me right now, and it’s a piece of artwork, not like you do scratches with a pen. It’s really complicated, thoughtful and a lot of effort given.”

Savchenko said he plans to have the envelope framed.

“I will save it,” he said. “It’s a good thing to have on the wall. I admire his talent and his ability to say hello in that very unusual and very interesting manner. That piece will unite us and put us together even if he is in a distant and isolated post.”

Connection is what the art envelopes are all about for Jeppson, and he is grateful for the “slug in the arm” given to him by a sister-in-law, Lori Jeppson, who urged him to use his time in Iraq to awaken his long dormant artistic gifts. Painted for her in vibrant <a href=”https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/02/what-is-gouache/”>gouache</a> is a sea turtle.

“This has been a complete rejuvenation of my love of art,” he said. “I’d forgotten how much therapy it brings to me, so I want to be sure to continue it after I’m back with my family. I want to make sure to keep it going.”

Jeppson is recording his experiences with the art envelopes on a blog, <a href=”http://globetrottingfarmkid.blogspot.com/”>The Globe Trotting Farm Kid</a>. His mother has recorded them in her heart.

“They are so personal,” Brenda Jeppson said. “They are so filled with love for the person he’s sending them to. You can see it…That letter with the cow on it is not ever going to be thrown away.”

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jennifer@cvradio.com

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