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This is part of an occasional series by the Sanpete Country Travel and Heritage Council on the people and places along U.S. Highway 89.
Listening to his Canvas Takes Ephraim Artist to White House and Beyond
| Wood painter Larry Nielson has always listened to his canvas. The Ephraim artist says he always examines every piece of wood carefully before picking up his paint brush. It is almost as if the wood tells him what to paint, like it has its own spirit, Nielson has said. Nielson was listening very closely the day a piece of wood told him to paint a likeness of a famous battle scene, the image of the marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima in 1945. It came as quite a surprise. “It was strange because I have never painted anything patriotic, I tend to mostly paint Native Americans and wildlife,” Nielson says. But there was just something about the gnarly, knotty piece of wood that Nielson had sitting in his garage for more than a year. “The wood was almost neurotic looking and for whatever reason, when I looked at it that day, this dramatic and disturbing image came to me from out of the wood. Maybe it is because it is one of the most famous war scenes in history, I don’t know.”Nielson started painting the image of the likeness of the raising of the flag and said that he finished it the night of Sept. 10, 2001. “I remember coming in and showing it to my mother and sister, who thought it was unusual that I painted a military scene. The very next day, as we all know, the world changed. We were all in such shock and feeling so horrified that it didn’t strike me until a couple days later that it was more than a coincidence.“I know it sounds unbelievable, but I don’t care, I know that I was inspired to paint something that day that I never before would have considered painting. At the time, I had no idea that the painting would end up where it did.”Where that painting ended up was in the hands of the President of the United States. And a special print of that painting also travelled around the United States and was signed by members of the U.S. Marines who served in World War II. “Just last week, 65 marines who were on the island signed the print and there are plans for even more to sign it. It is pretty profound what is going on right now with this art work. I feel a certain humility about it all. These guys are all heros and here they are signing my print because something about it touched them. It is just incredible,” Nielson says.How the original Iwo Jima image made its way to George W. Bush is an interesting story. Nielson was showing some work at the SCERA in Orem during a Michael Martin Murphy concert and the Iwo Jima piece was included in the display. One of the people who saw it was a man named Grenade Currant, an independent film producer who declared “this should go to the President.”
“I didn’t think much about it, I didn’t think he could be serious,” Nielson says. But it turned out that Curran is friends with Joe Lake, who is involved with several charities, including the Children’s Miracle Network. Joe Lake just happens to be friends with President Bush. “I got a call that I had to get art in the mail as soon as possible. I didn’t even have time to put it in a frame. I wrapped it up in bubble wrap and sent it on its way. I did get to write a little note to the president, which was an amazing experience,” Nielson says. The art was later presented to the president during a rally in Los Angeles by actor Rick Schroder.
But what happened next has touched Nielson even more. A veteran named Keith Renstrom heard about Nielson’s work. “We started talking and he made such an impression on me,” Nielson says. “He has such a zest for life.” Nielson told Renstrom that he had made a negative of the image he had sent to President Bush. “So I made him a print.” Renstrom decided to take the print to a marine reunion in San Antonio, Texas, where he had veterans from all over the United States sign it. “When I heard about it, it really blew my mind,” Nielson says. “I felt such a reverence.”
Renstrom has plans to collect even more signatures and then wants to see the print end up somewhere “very important.” “At this point, I don’t know where the print will end up, and I don’t care,” Nielson says. “Something very important is going on here. The print doesn’t really belong to me any more. It belongs to all of the men who signed it, because they were there, they are real and each has a very dramatic story to tell. And it belongs to the public. Young people especially need to be aware of the fact that wars were fought. I think what happened in New York sobered up a lot of people.”
|FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Larry Nielsen
Wind and Wings Wood Works
Ephraim, UT 84627Wind and Wings
PO Box 8169
Midvale, Utah 84047
OR For more information Contact:Monte Bona
Sanpete County Travel and Heritage Council