Artist Revels In History Of The West



The two-inch brass plaque above the easel William Ahrendt designed reads "100%."

"One hundred percent, that is what you have to invest, anything less, the other guy might not know, but you won't feel right," Ahrendt said.


"This particular composition is the opening battle of Custer in the West," William Ahrendt said.

He built his studio to suit his needs -- from the woodshop where he makes museum-quality frames to the room where he makes educational films, to the loft where he does the final production work.

Ahrendt's paintings vibrate with history and the former teacher slips easily into instructional mode.

The composition currently in progress on his easel depicts Custer's first battle with the Cheyenne.

It is 6:30 a.m. in Washita, Okla. Snow covers the ground and the morning star rises over the hills.

A woman in the midst of the fray carries a child in her arms.

A soldier takes aim.

Horses rear.

The battle rages.

Smoke and fire reach for the American flag that waves over an Indian teepee.

"Black Kettle, Chief of the Cheyenne, was given the American flag by an American officer interested in peace. The officer told him, fly it over your teepee and the American soldiers won't bother you.

"The soldiers killed Black Kettle on the way into the village, killed dozens of warriors and massacred a hundred women and children. Not a very proud moment in history," Ahrendt said.

Many of his paintings are pairs or series, so he can tell stories like the chapters of a book.

"The West is a great story. People from all over the world discover it and want to share in it," Ahrendt said.

The Washita painting is in its final stages. It is one of a pair.

A second canvas that bears Ahrendt's drawing of the campaign at Little Big Horn awaits his brush.

Our perceptions of Custer have changed. He was a boy hero in the Civil War, busted to colonel in the postwar years. He wanted glory and some believe he had political aspirations. War in the West was his opportunity to satisfy his officers, according to Ahrendt.

DVD bonus

Ahrendt is making a DVD of his paintings and the story of Custer for his client.

His DVDs tell the stories of his creative work. They begin with a first sketch. They show him painting the foundation picture using the egg tempera paints he makes himself. Then, the final refinement in oils.

"They want the wife and the baby photos and it makes it more interesting for me," Ahrendt said.

The easels that hold Ahrendt's canvases move laterally and vertically on mechanized easels he invented, so, he does not have to stop his flow painting or the movie.

He will condense 40 hours of video to 40 minutes of movie.

In the process, he has become photographer, writer, editor, producer and distributor of his movies all in one place.

"This way there aren't six or seven people involved in something that only the artist knows about," Ahrendt said.

Art is as necessary as breath

As a boy of seven, Ahrendt had a substitute teacher "who, as substitute teachers often do, had the class draw pictures to get us out of her hair."

She recommended to Ahrendt's parents that they enroll him in classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

For the next seven years he lived his Saturdays in the museum.

His next degrees came from the Cleveland Institute of Art and Arizona State University.

He honed his baroque painting techniques as a student at the Max Doerner Department of Painting and Restoration at the Fine Arts Academy in Munich, Germany and the Munich Academy of Creative Art, where advanced students were not permitted to paint until the instructors were satisfied they could draw.

"Good drawings are an important part of a quality art collection. They are a peek into the artist's mind. They are like the diaries and notes of writer. They lend breadth and integrity," Ahrendt said.

Upon his return to the States, he taught at ASU and was the art department chairman at Glendale Community College.

"Even if I had never taken an art class I would never have been anything but an artist," Ahrendt said.


Name: William Ahrendt

Medium: Oil paintings with historical subject matter

Motto: 100%

Advice to beginning artists: Learn to draw. "If you learn to draw, you don't have to depend on a photographer."

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

Why Pine? He retired from teaching to paint

Biggest upcoming project: A mural on the wall of the new addition to the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Cody, Wyo. The Lewis and Clark Expedition is the possible subject of the mural.

Hobby: Travel to the great art museums, then spending a week in front of the paintings

Points of contact: Giclees of Ahrendt's work are at Myra's Gallery in Pine.

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