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Rick Kelley completes popular 'American Freedom' series

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River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Rick Kelley says the final work of his "American Freedom" series of paintings brought him back to his artistic roots.

"I love landscapes," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Chanhassen, Minn. "It was a lot of fun to do because I could encompass everything I wanted to in the piece."

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"The Freedom Fields" provides a distant view of the mountain range that Kelley depicted in the wildly popular first three paintings of the series - "On Freedom's Wing," "Liberty's Flight" and "Reflections of Freedom."

"I loved the idea of taking the entire series of mountain ranges and backing up about 15 miles and creating foothills and wheat fields," he said. "It was more to the roots of what I do."

Look carefully at the clouds above the mountain range and you see that they form an eagle and an American flag. Fifty snow geese on a pond and field crops shape another flag in the foreground.

"As a nation, we have undergone many trials, yet we continue to grow and lead the way in making the world a free place for all," Kelley says of the painting on his Web site, www.kelleyfineart.com. "The expansion of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the heart of 'The Freedom Fields.'"

Kelley will be at the Hudson location of Kelley Frame & Fine Art Galleries, 512 Second St., to sign prints of his latest work Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 22-23, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Kelley's brother Don owns the local art shop. His father, Ed, and sister Barb also work there.

The "American Freedom" series has had the effect of a shot of adrenaline on Kelley's already successful career as a wildlife artist.

He says he has sold well over 100,000 prints of the paintings that were his reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Copies of the paintings can be found in White House offices, as well as offices of congressmen, military generals and other important figures.

Kelley, 47, has twice delivered prints from the series to the senior President George H.W. Bush. Most recently, he flew to Houston in May of this year to present the elder President Bush with the second and third paintings in the series.

Bush told him that he was going to hang the prints in his presidential library and museum at College Station, Texas. They sat and talked for half an hour about fishing in Florida.

The secretary to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the set as a Christmas present to him last year.

He has sold rights to reproduce the images on a number of products, including bereavement stationery and jigsaw puzzles.

Having his name written into an episode of the NBC-TV program "ER" was perhaps the most telling sign of the popularity of his work.

A character on the program had a blind date with a man named Rick Kelley. When a friend used the Internet to try to do a background check on the man, the name that popped up was that of Rick Kelley the wildlife artist.

Twenty million people were watching the show, which aired during sweeps week, and people from all over the country called him.

"That's the kind of thing that happens when you start getting your name out in the media a lot," Kelley said. "It's kind of catapulted to a different level."

He said not many artists achieve the name-recognition of a Terry Redlin or Thomas Kinkade, but the "American Freedom" series has brought him recognition approaching that level.

According to Kelley's Web site, it all started when he went looking for an American flag to buy following 9/11, and couldn't find one because so many people had the same idea.

His wife, Shawn, suggested that he paint his own flag.

"With this suggestion, Rick went to his easel, searched his creative mental files and remembered an idea he had for years - an American flag camouflaged in a mountain top with two American bald eagles flying through the sky," the Web site says.

"Before September 11th, Rick Kelley was a wildlife artist. After September 11th, Rick Kelley became a wildlife artist with a big mission."

Kelley pledged 10 percent of the proceeds from the first painting to the Liberty Disaster Relief Fund for families who lost loved ones in the attack on the World Trade Center. The Kelley Fine Art Galleries in Hudson, Stillwater, Minn., and Woodbury, Minn., also donated a share of their proceeds from sales of the print to local fire departments.

Ten percent of net proceeds from the second print were donated to the Todd M. Beamer Foundation. The foundation helps children who were victims of the 9/11 attacks. It is named after one of the passengers of United flight 93 that helped thwart the highjackers' plan to crash the jet into a Washington, D.C., target.

Kelley resided in Hudson for 10 years after his father moved here in 1980. He grew up in St. Paul and Montana, moving back and forth between the two places as Ed Kelley's job with the Burlington Northern Railroad required.

He graduated from St. Paul's old Kellogg High School, which closed when it merged with Ramsey High School to become Roseville Area High School.

Kelley and his wife have three children ages 2, 4 and 10.

He said he's also bringing prints of his newest African wildlife painting, "The Gathering Place," to the Nov. 22-23 show at Hudson. He describes it as a sort of Noah's Ark without the boat. The animals are instead gathered at a watering hole, with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background.

To learn more about Kelley and view samples of his work, including his most popular paintings, go online to www.kelleyfineart.com. The Web site also has information about print sizes and prices.

Randy Hanson can be reached at rhanson@rivertowns.net.

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