Local artist goes wild

Rich Heffron used to mow grass or shovel snow in order to buy art supplies. "I'd get a dime and I'd sneak down to the museum,' said the former Grand Rapids resident. "You know those dioramas with all the animals and the moose in it?' the now 76-year-old Spring Lake Township resident asked. "I'd come home and paint those. I would try to duplicate the diorama.'
Becky Vargo
Apr 3, 2012

Heffron was 8 years old when he took up painting, using his fascination with the Grand Rapids Public Museum displays to steer his artwork in the direction of wildlife.

Real-life work caused him to take a detour for a while, but he formulated a plan and was able to take up painting full-time when he retired from AT&T in 1988.

Heffron spent the next 15 years painting a variety of wildlife including everything from butterflies and waterfowl to squirrels, deer and bear. He’s even done a zebra and tried his hand at religious artwork.

“I find if I paint, I am more relaxed,” he said. “You also keep yourself sharp.”

Heffron went back to the easel after taking a break following 9/11 and changed the way he worked. He said he now sticks to smaller original pieces that he completes in just a few hours and sell for a reasonable price over the Internet.

Heffron, whose West Spring Lake Road home sits on a once-remote 10-acre parcel, said he has always had a love for the outdoors. His time spent grouse hunting with longtime friend Jim Anderson of Grand Rapids provided a lot of inspiration.

Both men use photography as a resource — Heffron for his painting and Anderson for his carving.

Some of Heffron’s more recent work includes painting the waterfowl carvings that Anderson has created. The carving is sometimes matched with a painting.

Heffron said he might take a picture of a tree trunk or some leaves on the ground. Many of his paintings are a compilation of several different pictures or even a color he saw on another artist’s piece of work.

“I never copy another artist,” he said. “I use him as a resource.”

Heffron has several pieces of art hanging around his home, often switching out the work for a change of pace, or to sell the piece.

His favorite painting is a snowy owl sitting at the base of a pine tree. The artwork took him about 60 hours to complete back in the early 1990s.

“I won some awards with that one,” he said.

Heffron’s work has won awards in regional and international art competitions, including Best of Show and People’s Choice. He has also been a finalist in the Michigan Wildlife Artist of the Year competition, and entered works in various state duck and trout stamp contests. He donates prints to organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever to raise money to protect and secure wetlands and wildlife habitat.

“I hope my artwork brings attention to the importance of conservation and the appreciation of wildlife and nature,” he said.

More recently, Heffron has started painting West Michigan lighthouses, some of which are on display as part of an exhibit at Loutit District Library. Heffron said he has 16 pieces of work at the library, most of them on display in the lower level hallway. There are also two paintings with matching carvings in a showcase at the Columbus Avenue entrance to the library.

The exhibit will be on display through April.

Heffron said he used to produce his art to make money. Now he just likes knowing that other people like his work.

“If people appreciate your art, what more do you want?” he said.




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