AUSTIN (KXAN) — Ken Pridgeon runs the Portrait of a Warrior Memorial Art Gallery in Baytown, Texas.
He’s best known for painting more than 300 portraits of fallen soldiers. On Wednesday he presented a portrait to the nation’s oldest living veteran, Austin’s Richard Overton, who turned 110 in May.
“I was really surprised… it excited me, I’ve never seen one before. I really love this one,” Overton said of his portrait, as he held court on his East Austin front porch, with a number of well-wishers and friends around him.
Pridgeon was overwhelmed by meeting Overton: “He’s like a 65 or 70-year-old guy, he’s amazing. He’s younger than I am at heart, even. Smokes 12 cigars a day, drinks a little whiskey. I’ve just made a true friend. I’m really hooked. I really love him.”
Describing himself as a “poor man’s Norman Rockwell,” Pridgeon likes to put stories in the background of his paintings.
“I never met someone 110 years old until today. It is an awesome experience,” Pridgeon said, after giving him the original three by four foot painting, his service portrait and an American flag waving in the background.
The painter says it took two to three days to finish the portrait. Pridgeon says his work is inspired by the one percent that protects the 99 percent. “All these young people go over to Afghanistan and Iraq, they fight and die for us and we need to give them recognition. I do. I paint them.”
He carefully researches their backgrounds, discovering what they did in life and what they enjoyed doing. That all ends up in his paintings.
Reflecting on his day with Overton, Pridgeon says, “This is an event that has never happened before in the history of the United States and it’s an event that will never happen again. It’s my honor and pleasure to be a part of it.”
Pridgeon’s Facebook page has more information on his Baytown gallery as well a look at his other portraits.