KENNESAW, Ga. -- He was a child of the Depression and a survivor of the worst of times during World War II. Nearly seven decades later, Kennesaw resident David Clayman has made it big.
He's a local artist who -- at age 86 -- can now claim Atlanta's World of Coca-Cola as a gallery for his newest exhibit: a series of wood creations in the shape of Coke bottles.
Clayman's art is fascinating, but his life story is even more so.
During World War II, David served as a Private in the U.S. Army. In late 1944, he was captured in Buchenwald, Germany and taken as a Prisoner of War. He spent nearly six months captive -- at just 18 years old.
"There's no way of retaliating, no way of protecting yourself," recalls David of that time. "You are at the mercy of the people that are holding you. In that situation you have absolutely no control, and your humanity is destroyed."
Pvt. Clayman and his fellow prisoners were eventually rescued. However, almost immediately upon returning to the States, Clayman began suffering from what he would be diagnosed with 30 years later and what he still struggles with today - post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
"I don't like to be in crowded places," Clayman says. He also talks about having nightmares: "My recurring dream is finding home ... I'm always looking for home. People don't even give a second thought to home; I'm trying to find it."
But for someone who has endured so much, he has also accomplished so much. Says Clayman, "I don't live in the past. I live now."
And for Clayman, "now" refers to his art.
He works out of his basement in Kennesaw, a place he arranged himself with machines he built himself as a longtime industrial engineer. From its clutter have arisen creations that adorn the house of Clayman and his wife, Adrienne.
"His mind never stops," says Adrienne. "I think he sleeps with a pencil."
When the couple moved to metro Atlanta, Clayman found the inspiration for the Coke bottle project.
"It's an icon, and there are a lot of us, including me, who like Coca-Cola," he says, laughing. "I mean, I drink it all the time."
Coca-Cola liked his creations, so much that they chose to hang them on the gallery walls at the World of Coca-Cola downtown -- a venue that has housed works by Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell, among others.
"My idea was to create an aesthetic view of a bottle," Clayman says. "Does my idea extend out to people in general? I think it does, but I don't know; we'll see."
The exhibit premiered on Memorial Day weekend and has been an instant hit at the World of Coca-Cola. When Clayman first saw the gallery, he stared at the bottles for several minutes before breaking into tears.
"I'll tell you, I can't believe it," he said, mostly speechless. "It's ... it's too much."
For more about David Clayman's art, check out his web site.
For more about the World of Coca-Cola, check out www.worldofcoca-cola.com.
Follow Matt Pearl on Twitter at @MattPearlWXIA11.