Today, it is commonplace to overhear someone recognize a member of our Armed Forces by saying, “Thank you for your service,” but one Texas man is doing much more than that.
Ken “The Dauber” Prigeon has spent several years painting hundreds of portraits of Texas Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who have been killed in action.
His work showcases how one person can have a positive impact on the tragic loss experienced by hundreds of Texas families.
Ken Pridgeon poses alongside some of his artwork
While his artwork was initially shown in his own private studio, over 350 paintings are now displayed in the Fallen Texas Warriors Memorial Gallery located in Houston, TX.
To Ken, painting fallen Texas service members is his life’s calling. He doesn’t get paid for it. Instead, he relies on donations and help from municipal organizations to help fund the enterprise. Nonetheless, he continues to commit six days a week to the effort to support the greater good.
Retired and in his eighties, Ken shows no sign of slowing down. He rises every day around 6:30am to spend around 14 hours a day researching and painting the noble faces of Texas servicemen and women who have given their lives while fighting the ongoing war on terror.
Once a fallen warrior is designated, Ken gathers a variety of pictures from the fallen’s family and uses them to create a collage, incorporating them in the portrait.
The result is both breathtaking and humbling. Plus, Ken presents each family with a free print to further commemorate their lost loved one.
Ken with his new Canon PRO-2100 from TAVCO - printing a Texas Warrior
Ken’s Painting Journey
Ken Prigeon’s life has revolved around art since his younger days, working at Pridgeon's grocery, painting sales advertisements on store windows.
As he honed his skills, Ken started studying Norman Rockwell and learned to really tell stories with paintings.
A veteran himself, Ken served 10 years in the United State Air Force as an electronics technician. In his spare time, he offered his service as an artist to the troops.
According to Ken, “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.”
Ken exited the Air Force in 1963 and knew for sure was that he wanted to paint for a living. So, he became a billboard artist. This, however, turned out to be incredibly dangerous work.
“My first day painting, they put me on a ball hanging from a crane, with a 25-pound hook on each shoulder and hoisted me up 75 feet to the top of a billboard over on I-45 (Houston, TX).
Normally, instead of hooking onto the painter, they put the hooks 20 feet apart on each side of the boardwalk and hung what was known as "falls" onto them, so we could pull the "stage", which was another word for the walk-board that painters pulled up to stand on, while they laid out the sign.
It was dangerous work, and we lost many good artists in the time I was painting billboards due to fatal and crippling falling accidents, and it was quietly talked about in hush tones by us painters and then hidden away in the backs of our minds.”
Becoming Ken the Dauber
It was during this time of painting billboards where Ken Prigdeon earned his nickname, “The Dauber.”
“We painted up 65-feet above the ground using rags for brushes. Grabbing a rag from the box, we'd just daub onto the red, black and yellow paint for the wood grain backgrounds.
We would mix up a good background color on the rag and go horizontally across the board, wiggling as we went for the wood grain, then daub into the black and red for the knotholes.”
Ken’s painting adventures continued as he was commissioned to paint everything from billboards to lettering on helicopter pads to shipping barges.
“The crew loved the fact that I could custom letter logos and all kinds of things. One day, I was painting a landing pad with a heavy brush – daubing, as the material was thick and had sand in it to keep the helicopters from sliding off into the Gulf.
Mr. Powell of Powell Industries watched me working and asked why I painted like that, and I explained the only way to make the paint stick was to daub it on.
He laughed and told me from this day forward, he was christening me "Ken the Dauber" and, well, the name stuck.”
Ken has since retired from commercial painting and focuses now on his portraits.
Painting Fallen Warriors
Painting fallen Texas warriors started back in 2010 with a request from a friend. They asked if he could paint US Army Private Wesley Riggs who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was killed in action. This art piece was so well received by the family that Ken decided to keep going.
Ken’s devotion to help military families who are grieving is his way of continually serving our country.
"The first thing that family looks at when they hold them [portraits] and look them in the eyes and say, ‘Oh that's Jimmy's eyes’, so that's what I do and what I will [continue to] do until God takes me out of here," says Pridgeon.
For years, Ken showcased his artwork in his own Baytown studio. However, since March 24, 2018, the collection is now located at the Cy-Champ Public Utility District’s Fallen Warriors Memorial. (map)
According to Ron Walkoviak, President of the Board of the Cy-Champ Public Utility District, "We should honor our fallen heroes, and Ken has done a wonderful job with his paintings. It compliments very well the memorial that we built just down the road here.”
Ken Pridgeon humbly considers himself a Poor Man's Norman Rockwell. He proclaims,
“I am just a paint dauber, but I am so truly blessed to get up each day and paint.
Someone mentioned that I may get rich from my paintings, and I just looked them in the eye and said, ‘I already am.’ Each day I can paint makes my life richer.”
One thing for sure, Ken continues to enrich the lives of Texas families far beyond those directly affected by the subjects of his work.
He is an artist, a patriot, and a fine human being. He should serve as an example to us all.
January 13, 2020