If you’ve ever traveled through Baytown and found yourself on West Texas Avenue, you’ve probably seen Ken Pridgeon’s Memorial Art Gallery “Portrait of a Warrior.” It’s hard to miss the colorful mix of American flags and war paintings outside the building. The real magic though is what’s inside.
Edel Howlin: “If only these paintings could talk!”
Ken Pridgeon:“These paintings do talk. We talk to them.”
The more than 80 larger than life canvas paintings of fallen Texas soldiers cover every single wall space. Measuring 3 feet x 4 feet, each one is hand-painted by Pridgeon a former sign painter and an air force veteran.
“I’m a poor man’s Norman Rockwell and in the backgrounds I depict a little bit of the story of their lives and in Wesley’s case he was a gulf coast fisherman, he was a whitewater rafter and he was a mudder.”
The picture Pridgeon is describing is of Wesley Riggs, a Baytown resident who was killed in Iraq in 2005. Riggs is also the portrait that started the entire gallery two years ago. Once other families saw Riggs, the portrait requests started pouring in.
Each painting is different representing the soldier’s personality, something which Pridgeon researches online or talks to the family about. It takes him about four days to paint each portrait, he does it completely free of charge and says it’s for his boys and girls.
“If I hadn’t been given this opportunity but I knew that this opportunity exist. I would go and sell everything I owned to just go and purchase a small piece of it.”
As Pridgeon gives a tour of the fallen warriors one name looks familiar, Clay Hunt. Hunt was a former Marine and a member of veteran first responder organization Team Rubicon. His name was mentioned when we interviewed Team Rubicon members earlier this year as they were struggling to come to terms with his suicide.
“Clay was a great guy and he was one of our PTSD boys and Clay was a sniper as you can see. Played the guitar when he was younger and won the Navy Cross, that’s one of the medals displayed on his chest.”
Pridgeon gave an 18 x 24 inch copy of Hunt’s portrait to his parents. Something he does for every parent, wife or husband who visits the gallery.
“People really become emotional. I have people come in one side of the building here and find their son on the wall and they have their cry and we talk about it together, etc. By the time they walk out the other side, they’re laughing and joking. It’s a healing process.”