- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

WINNEBAGO, Ill. (AP) - Artist Tom Heflin has made a career out of his passion.

Born in Arkansas, he and his family relocated because, “Well. we were starving to death. So we moved up here to work in the factories.”

Illinois was much different than the warm southern lifestyle Heflin had grown accustomed to. However, it didn’t take long before he found himself at home in Rockford.

Impressed, yet surprised by his new teachers’ encouragement, he said, “It was the first time I didn’t get in trouble for drawing when I was supposed to be studying. The teachers in Rock River Grade School really encouraged me to draw.”

It was those first reassurances that would fuel his fire that set the stage for his entire future.

He fondly wrote the memoir in great detail in the first chapter of his second book, “Roots & Wings: The Art of Tom Heflin.” The manuscript is a 37-year retrospective of his work and life that is dedicated to his children. Images not depicted in paint or sketch form, are etched out in written word, unraveling scenes of his memories.

After high school, he earned a football scholarship, but because the college didn’t have a decent art program, he took a pass, and sought his passion instead. Primarily self-taught, he took every job he could that allowed him to create.

“Well then babies came along, and of course, I had to go make a living,” he said. “(I) ended up on the drawing board, making logos for a company.”

Not straying too far from those early roots, he designed the Winnebago logo a few years ago, recently revamping and modernizing it. It is now displayed on the water tower.

“I didn’t climb up there myself and paint it though. Back in the day I did big illustrations way up, not no more,” he laughed. “I had my share of climbing big buildings, painting Little Miss Sunbeam Bread and other illustrations.”

Although his family thought he was crazy, and didn’t expect he would be successful in a career driven by art, he moved into an abandoned farmhouse outside of Freeport to focus and create, coming back home on weekends.

He stayed for over 20 years, in spite of the country studio’s lack of indoor plumbing, “It got down to 15-below some winters,” he said shaking his head at the memory. He painted every square inch of land that surrounded him. The peace and tranquility offered a perfect backdrop.

“A big ingredient is, you gotta love it enough to sacrifice,” he said.

In mediums from watercolor, pencil, charcoal, acrylic and sometimes - the shirt off of his back - he grew his inventory and sold them one-by-one, gaining notoriety in the art community.

“I couldn’t paint enough to supply the demand,” he said. “I am very lucky and I’m very thankful. I was fortunate.”

“Had he pursued his career in a larger city, he would have had much greater success,” said longtime client Sam Darby who is thrilled Heflin’s family landed in Rockford.

“My wife and I have found great interest in his abstract work,” said Darby. “He’s always going beyond the boundaries of reality. He uses mixtures of different media, and he’s very creative in being able to tap into ones imagination, that is where we found great joy.”

Heflin’s work has been showcased from his hometown, and as far away as Tokyo, Japan, as well as in Alabama, Alaska, California, Georgia, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, Washington, D.C., Wisconsin and Wyoming, to name a few.

His daughters used to frequently host in exhibitions at his gallery, but moved to the south three years ago. He said they were instrumental in organizing shows that would draw several hundred visitors.

Still working daily, Heflin’s art is offered online and sometimes can be seen hanging around businesses, including Frame Shoppe Gallery in Edgebrook. Many of his works are entered in national and international shows as well.

Heflin continues to find inspiration in everything, from his life experiences, the world around him, and whatever his vast imagination can conjure.

Louise and Jason Gesmer have been clients of Heflin’s since the 1970s.

“I just think his work is outstanding,” said Jason Gesmer, who along with his wife, Louise, have been clients since the ‘70s. “In some fashion, he reminds me of Picasso how he can bring life to a few lines on paper. His entire work output has remained top-drawer.”

___

Source: Rockford Register Star, https://bit.ly/1jrmHvl

___

Information from: Rockford Register Star, https://www.rrstar.com

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide