Texas Painter Memorializes America's Fallen Soldiers
Connections to the State of Texas
My father was stationed at an Air Force Base in Texas in the mid fifties, which is why I and my brother were born in the city of Harlingen way down in the southern tip of Texas. The closest large city in Mexico is Monterey and the most substantial city close to Harlingen in Texas itself is Corpus Christi.
My father did lot of fishing and scuba diving in the gulf and he and my mother explored the small towns of nearby Mexico whenever they had the chance. I still have a pair of beautiful carved stone lions – book ends that they bought on one of their many trips. My father was transferred when I was three and I never again lived in Texas.
Twenty years ago, my brother moved his family to Texas, Dallas to be precise, in order to attend a Bible College, Christ for the Nations. He and his wife and two, now adult, sons have lived in a small suburb of Dallas ever since. My three sons and I have driven out to visit them during the summer on several occasions, and the “flatness and treelessness” which quite a few residents complain about, doesn’t bother me at all. I rather like it.
But my family is not really the focus of this particular essay.
Ken Pridgeon from Baytown, Texas is the focus of this essay.
Retired Sign Painter from Baytown, Texas
Baytown is a city in Harris County, Texas situated east of State Highway 146 and south of Interstate 10. Travel twenty-two miles west you will find yourself in Houston; travel south instead toward the Gulf of Mexico and you arrive in Galveston. Baytown located at the mouth of the San Jacinto River had a population just under 72,000 in 2010. On a quiet street in Baytown there is an unexpected and patriotic treasure inside an old unassuming store-front, the “Portrait of a Warrior” Memorial Art Gallery.
The gallery is replete with portraits of U.S. soldiers, men and women from Texas who have died in America’s recent conflicts in the Middle East. Most of the large portraits are completed, framed, and hanging on the walls. But there is always one painting in process and sitting behind the easel, you will find Mr. Ken Pridgeon, a retired sign painter.Every portrait in the store-front depicts a fallen soldier, a young man or woman cut down in the prime of their life,a child who will never return to their parents home.
Mr. Pridgeon began his career by serving his country for ten years in the United States Air Force where he worked as an electronics technician. Even while on active duty in the Air Force, then he was painting, usually to help out a fellow airman.
“You see we didn’t have color photographs in 1953 so I would make Sepia tone wedding pictures into color photos for the guys’ wives and families when I was in Germany. …. I got out of the Air Force in 1963 and did not know how to talk civilian. I must skip some things and go straight to what I had dreamed of doing, from when I did my first sketch – become a billboard artist….”
After spending a few years as a billboard painter (at the time an extremely dangerous profession), Ken established himself in a sign painting business. After he retired, and at the request of a friend, he undertook to paint the portrait of a young soldier who lost their life overseas.
A Patriotic Portrait Artist
Before long Ken was painting another and then another portrait of a fallen soldier. He always talks with the families, finds out about the young man or woman’s life, hobbies, special interests and then paints a portrait that reveals and commemorates who they really were.
Mr. Pridgeon explained, “I am a portrait artist and teacher of portraiture. I like to tell the story of the person's life in the background and make the portrait a fine arts painting worthy of standing alone as the old masters did in some cases. [Families] love the warmth of my portraits and above all, they love that I maintain the subject's likeness throughout the process starting with the eyes…. I make portraits that cheer our living and honor our dead.”
The “Portrait of a Warrior” Memorial Art Gallery was established to memorialize and honor fallen military personnel from Texas who served overseas in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Underneath each portrait in the gallery there are photographs and stories provided by the soldier’s family. Thanks to Mr. Pridgeon’s hard work and dedication -- he spend 12-14 hours a day working in the gallery -- every family receives a copy of the portrait. They are also invited to come to the gallery when their son or daughter’s portrait is hung.
Ken’s earnest intention, his over-riding goal is to paint a portrait of every American soldier from Texas --- he refers to them as "my boys and my girls" --- who has died while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just over five hundred soldiers from Texas have died so far and the number is likely to continue rising.
The following video tells the story of Mr. Ken Pridgeon, the men and women he strives to honor, and the “Portrait of a Warrior” Memorial Art Gallery in Baytown, Texas. Please take a few moments to watch the video. Thank you for your concern and your time.
Texas Painter Memorializes Our Lost Soldiers
(1) Ken “The Dauber” Pridgeon by Bert Marshall OurBaytown.com
(6) Wikipedia –- Baytown, Texas
World War II --- Iraq --- Afghanistan
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