Baytown artist Ken Pridgeon had planned to use a city-owned theater to expand his gallery that honors fallen troops from across Texas, but his vision has now shifted to a vacant, two-story building in downtown.
"I can see paintings on this wall. I can see paintings on this long wall here," said Pridgeon, envisioning the gallery as he walks through the building on West Texas Avenue. "Two on top of the other with frames by the way."
Pridgeon's current gallery -- just three blocks down from the prospective building -- houses hundreds of portraits of Texas troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force veteran has been painting them for three years now, using photos of the fallen as his source. He paints one copy for the gallery, another for the hero's family.
"All you have to do is see a family accept one of their loved ones. You're going to make me cry," said Pridgeon, fighting back tears. "One of their loved one's portraits, and see them look into their eyes and you'll know."
But Pridgeon also wants to use the gallery to train artists from across the country to create portraits of the fallen in their own states. In addition, he envisions free art classes for youths and a venue for veterans' events.
Pridgeon believes the gallery would be a huge draw in the city's efforts to revitalize downtown, and others are working to help his dream become a reality.
"It's a great opportunity for those who feel as we do about veterans," said Don Messerschmidt of Baytown's American Legion Post 323. "Give them an opportunity to have a place to visit and see these young people and think about the sacrifices."
"This is not about Baytown," said Pridgeon. "This is not even about Texas. This is not even about the United States. This is about those who served the United States."
Pridgeon is hoping a combination of grants, donations and private investment will help secure the 5,700 square-foot building. The cost is about $850,000.