Winona couple honors veterans with unique artwork |

Winona couple honors veterans with unique artwork

Rich Reeve
Updated: November 11, 2021 11:22 PM
Created: November 11, 2021 10:57 PM

It's hard to miss Bill and Lois Kozlowski's home in Winona.  

Inside and out, there's brightly colored artwork, including a map of Minnesota, made from cut-out license plate letters — and plenty of messages supporting veterans. 

"All gave some, some gave all," says one piece of artwork.  

"I'm proud to be a veteran," reads another. 

"There's a story about everything here," Bill Kozlowski, a U.S. Army and National Guard Veteran, says. "I've always liked being different in my life, so I started trying to be making weird and different things." 

The couple's garage has been converted into an art workspace, one they enjoy sharing with neighbors. 

"We just say come on over, and make sure to look on the ceiling and look all over," Kozlowski's wife Lois explains. "It's just, we love to do it, pick up unusual things." 

Patriotic messages, maps and labels line the walls. 

Some of the pieces incorporate those embossed license plate letters that each have had journeys of their own.  

"It's fantastic what he does, and they look good," exclaims Tim Reed, a Winona resident and an Army National Guard veteran. "The license plates, they just kind of pop at you because it's not just carved out in letters, it's all plates, then he puts a finish on them, and they just stick out." 

For the better part of a decade, the couple has traveled around the country, visiting thirty states and collecting 5,000 plates. 

"People have junk in their yard, used car lots with small lots, salvage yards," Kozlowski notes. "We like the plates with the raised letters, they really have a lot of character to them and a lot of color."  

Back at home, he cuts up the individual letters to spell out special words and messages. 

One of the most popular is 'veteran.'  

"There isn't too many people who go through this much work, and it's for veterans, Reed says. "I was a veteran with the army, so he made me up a sign. Then I have my brother Bruce, he's a Vietnam veteran, so I'm going to pick one up for him. He was a corpsman in the Vietnam War."  

Kozlowski says he's created about 300 of the signs so far — nailing the letters to a wood background, then protecting the work with two layers of polyurethane. 

The veterans, he says, are thankful. 

"I like it when they really come up and give you a hug, and I just think that's the coolest thing there is," he smiles. 

He and Lois presented several pieces to Winona-area vets in honor of Veterans Day.   

"I think it's a great tribute to all the men and women," she says. "Everybody just truly appreciates it, 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 have created other artworks, including an American flag made from bottle caps — a project they completed 15 years ago. 

But they hope the signs will touch veterans' hearts the most. 

"I just like to put smiles on their faces," Kozlowski says. "That's the satisfaction I get out of it. That fulfills my day."

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