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Meeting the kind of man that inspired "Visions Of Valor" May 11, 2016 12:41

"Greetings to all!" I hope the warm spring is bringing a much needed reprieve to the winter chili, giving us permission to pack away our gloves and scarfs for another year.

A PRICELESS EXPERIENCE

Back in mid January I received a call from the organizer of Redfeather.org, a non profit organization that raises money to build homes for Native American veterans. She had seen my painting "Visions of Valor" and wanted to see if I could present this framed lithograph to 94 year old Navajo Code Talker, Dan Akee at a ceremony celebrating his life and his newly remodeled home. In the span of six months Redfeather.org raised $80,000.00 and did a remarkable renovation of Mr. Akee's home that was originally built by Mr. Akee 60 years ago but had fallen in disrepair.

The day of the event I drove six hours from Albuquerque to Tuba City, Arizona and arrived to the warm greeting of Mr. Akee's family and friends. After a half hour of mingling we all gathered underneath a huge white tent to begin this special homecoming ceremony. Two hours quickly went by as person after person stood up, told stories and shed tears, all in Mr. Akee's honor. Eventually the moment came for me to present "Visions of Valor" to Mr. Akee. As he reclined in his red chair, he glanced a knowing look at me, received the painting and closed his eyes to nap. A full day of festivities capped off the way it should of been for the truest of American heroes.

We quietly left him to rest and walked into his new living room. With the help of friends and relatives I hung "Visions of Valor" on a newly painted blank white wall. It was the first thing to be hung in his new home. Looking back I think to myself what a great and humbling moment that was for me, that my art somehow captured the honor, dignity and spirit of Mr. Akee's life. As I shared with someone through the course of that memorable day "Maybe I painted this painting all those years ago for this very moment in time".

Sergeant Major Dan Akee served four consecutive tours of duty. Dan Akee is one of 10 Navajo Code Talkers left in the United States. He was one of the 44,000 Native Americans who served in the US Military during WWII and one of the 450 Navajo code talkers trained to code and decode secret messages. He is one of three code talkers still alive from his regiment. Dan Akee currently lives on the Navajo reservation with his wife, Margaret. He raised 12 children, nine who are still living, in the renovated house. At last count, he has 112 grandchildren, and he hopes they all will come home to visit. Dan Akee is in a wheelchair fulltime. Akee took part in some of the most difficult fighting in WWII including tours at Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian and two campaigns at Iwo Jima. During the war, the Navajo code was never broken by the Japanese, a key piece to eventually winning the war.
This was an honor and a blessing for me. Rarely as an artist do you get the opportunity to see your work connect so powerfully. I wanted to share this with you all.

Blessings,
-David Behrens


Flags of Our Fathers June 08, 2015 22:17

"Flags Of Our Fathers" is my newest painting. The concept of this painting kept turning in my mind over the past few years. I was thinking about the American flag from a Native American perspective. "How do they view it?", I asked myself. In light of "European conquest", small pox, the many removals and the broken treaties, what does a Navajo elder, a Seminole youth, an Iroquois mother think about when they see "Old Glory" rippling in the winter wind? Then I started thinking about Native American flags and their history. Created with eloquent design and deep symbolism, these I thought are the truer flags of this land. It's hard to believe that up until the beginning of World War II  Navajo children in the Southwest were taken from their homes and put in mission schools where they were taught to dress, act and speak like white children. If that wasn't bad enough they were reprimanded and punished for speaking their Navajo language. Then came the war effort and the recruiting of young Americans. The Navajo were eager to sign up to defend their ancient homeland. Soon the Navajo Marines created a code based on their language and the rest is history. In my book it is one of the most painful ironies that we bear as a country... that the same language that the young Navajo children were prohibited to use was the very same language that became the deciding factor in America winning World War II (my painting "Visions of Valor" depicts this story). 
 
I know that this painting asks more questions then it answers but it is my hope that when people look upon this image that they feel the pride, strength, sadness and "sense of knowing" flickering in this elders face... the American flag with all it's wounds wrapped around his shoulders... and the backdrop of the flags of the original nations anchoring this noble Northern Cheyenne patriarch. 
What do you think about when you see an American flag?

New Beginnings January 27, 2015 17:31

The past several years have significant change for me. Five years ago I packed up a huge U-Haul, gathered my family and drove from North Carolina to New Mexico. When I arrived my life was a blank page with a story waiting to be written. Almost immediately I opened up my own gallery in historic Old Town, Albuquerque. Little did I know that running a gallery would take all my energy and all my time.

I painted between customers my first year but then I moved to a much more visible location and as I hoped I started to get busy. I thought I was well prepared to run a gallery because I had been exhibiting at art shows for the past 20 years.

In retrospect art shows are like running a sprint and running a gallery is like running a marathon. I was always better at sprinting. Anyway, I hung in there, learned a lot of valuable lessons, was the recipient of many peoples kindnesses, was singed by burn out many times and survived... and thrived.

I am proud of my gallery, Painted Sky. It is a vision of mine that has grown into a haven of my most treasured paintings. I daily receive visitors from all over the United States and practically every corner of the globe. I have shared and sold my art to visitors from South Africa, France, New Zealand,  Australia, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Israel, The Philippines, Japan and China. But the most important thing that has blown on the embers of my soul is coming back full circle to the place that I am creating art again.

In my next post I will talk about my newest painting "Flags Of Our Fathers" and what it means to me to be painting again.