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Heaven Sets on Wind Creek

All paintings are different. They hold different meanings, stories, practices and lessons. Each one carries a piece of the artist’s heart with it. Some more than others.

This particular piece was, by far, the most emotional work I’ve ever done. I cried while painting it, hitting the floor in a hot mess after certain brushstrokes of color and especially when the title was determined. Those who have seen it in person have shared with me that they, too, were moved to tears. Not because of the quality – but because of the story.

Heavenset on Wind Creek 22x28 Oil

I live beside Keyhole Reservoir in Wyoming, along with about 500 other precious people. Pine Haven is a small, tight-knit community where everyone knows and (for the most part) loves everyone. It’s active with fishing, boating, swimming, camping, and hiking. In the winter months, ice fishermen dot the frozen water. Occasionally, however, a vehicle needs recovered from the lake due to the ice not being thick enough to hold its weight.

This past December 2022, one individual drove his UTV onto the ice which unfortunately gave way beneath him. He was lucky in that he managed to pull himself onto the ice shelf and call for help. Two men that drove out to rescue him were not so lucky, fell through and perished in the icy water. These men were loved deeply by everyone who knew them….and we all knew them because they were always out doing something for someone else. Ultimately, they gave their lives for the sake of another. There is no greater love than this.

The tragedy happened on the west end of the lake, which is known as Wind Creek.

There was a fundraiser held in March 2023 to raise money to purchase personalized benches in their honor to set in the town parks and cemetery. I had been asked to donate an item to be auctioned off at the event, but didn’t know what to paint. I had the canvas. I had the frame. But the content was somewhat lost to me. It had to be special – because the cause was important, and the men extraordinary.

Finally, the image for the composition came to me as I was driving one day. I sucked in my breath and my eyes filled with tears as I nearly ran off the road. I had taken a picture of a sunset at Wind Creek several years before. It was a phenomenal sky with touches of every color from a prism. It looked like Heaven was settling on the earth.

I painted the sunset as close to the original as possible, doing my best to capture the golden light that enveloped the scene. I added two geese flying into the end of the day, and sobbed uncontrollably as I pictured my friends wrapped in warmth – a stark, healing contrast to their final moments on earth.

I didn’t know who was going to buy this painting at the auction. But I prayed that it would go into the hands of someone who knew these men, that it would be a memorial of their sacrifice and selflessness. My prayer was answered tenfold.

At the event, the wife of one of the men called me to her. She held my hands and said, “I’m buying that painting.” Then she shared an important lesson with me that she used to teach her kids when she taught school. It was a five-point lesson about geese that she encouraged them to imitate with their friends throughout life:

Take turns leading.

Fly in each other’s wind speed.

The goose in the back sometimes takes over the lead.

Honk to encourage one another.

Nobody goes down alone.

She was awarded the painting after a battle of wills and pocketbooks. I felt bad that she had to pay for it. She had already given so much of herself with the loss of her husband and best friend. But I am so happy it hangs in her home. It didn’t belong anywhere else.

In Loving Memory

Bruce Lang

12/7/54 – 12/15/22

Jason Otto

5/14/74 – 12/15/22

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