After surviving a helicopter crash, this Army veteran found purpose in bottle cap art

Zeke Crozier became a maker of bottle cap art because it calmed him and gave him a purpose.

Crozier suffered a traumatic brain injury while deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. He was serving with the Army Reserve Bravo Company 7-158th Aviation Regiment when a Chinook helicopter he was in crashed. The injury affected Crozier’s ability to use the left side of his body.

“It was as if I had a stroke,” he says. “I’m left hand-dominant. I had to go through extensive treatment and therapy. I don’t think the miracle was that I survived — it was how well I recovered.”

Part of that recovery has been becoming an artist and founding Handy-Cappin’ LLC. His art — along with work by two other veterans who are artists — is on display at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center through July 10. The exhibit is called Place of Peace. It is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

How did you get started making art from bottle caps?

I was medically retired from the Army in 2013. While I recovered more than expected, my memory is still not so great, and I have issues with balance and PTSD. I couldn’t be around people. I had a lake lot I would go to to get me away from everyone. At the lake, people were throwing bottle caps on the ground. I tried to find a reason to pick them up and do something with them.

The first time, I thought I would try to smash one with a hammer. I missed it. I got mad. It made me want to start smashing the bottle caps again. When I had smashed all these bottle caps, hundreds of them, I decided to do something with them. I made a table. From that point on, it just progressed. It’s been pretty awesome.

How do people respond to your art?

No one has ever seen this kind of art. I used to do sheet metal work, so I have the tools to cut the bottle caps. I cut them into shape. Literally everything about each piece is custom. People think it’s crazy cool, but they don’t know what to do with it.

What is your favorite piece?

It is the centerpiece at the exhibit, called “Freedom Doesn’t Come without a Price.” It is a picture of Arlington Cemetery. I went there a couple of years ago to see my guys who were killed in the other crash. (While no one was killed when the Chinook he was in went down, Extortion 17 crashed a few weeks later, killing 38 members of his unit.) When I came home, I couldn’t find the words. I came home and thought, I need to make this to remember how I felt visiting there. It has never been up for sale until now. It has a big price on it ($7,500). I figure if someone really wants to pay that amount for it, I can make another one.

How does it feel to be an artist now?

It gives me confidence, and it has given me a purpose. I am humbled by my art. I look back and can’t believe I did that. I feel like it is really a gift from my creator. I never dreamed I would have a hobby that turned into a business.

What is Handy-Cappin’ about?

Right now, I help other not-for-profits through Handy-Cappin’. I can make pieces for their auctions or other fundraising events that are customized. I am working to expand the not-for-profit with more support and ideas to help other people with disabilities make art and find their own purpose like I did.