If you go
- What: Vernon Grant art exhibition reception
- When: 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 16
- Where Kilbourn Public Library, 620 Elm St., Wisconsin Dells
The world of Vernon Grant was filled with characters. Talking mice, monsters, invisible girlfriends, soldiers and others peppered the pages of his artwork. The prolific artist died in 2006, but his wife, Betsy Reese Grant is determined to keep sharing his work with others. Betsy Grant is providing examples of the artist’s work for an exhibition at the Kilbourn Public Library this month.
“My husband was an artist from when he was 3 years old,” Betsy Grant said. “He loved to draw his whole life.”
Vernon Grant served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1968, retiring at the rank of captain. The communications and infantry officer was stationed in France, Germany, Japan and served one year in Vietnam. After Grant got out of the Army, he attended Sophia University in Tokyo, where the couple met.
“He was a student there, and I was a student, and we just happened to see each other and met each other and got to know each other,” Betsy Grant said.
He had been in Japan for some time and introduced her to some new cultural experiences, she remembered. They later moved to Grant’s hometown of Cambridge, Mass., and eventually married. Betsy Grant grew up in the Dells. Her great-grandfather was noted photographer H.H. Bennett.
“He loved Wisconsin,” she said of Grant. “I will have some pictures that he did of Wisconsin themes in the show, too.”
Grant, an avid cartoonist, contributed artwork and writings to “Stars and Stripes” and the “Mainichi Daily News” in Tokyo and also completed a number of books featuring his own characters and themes, such as “Point-Man Palmer,” a military-themed series set in Vietnam and Tokyo and “The Love Rangers,” which features a futuristic band of characters working to restore peace and unity to the people and creatures around them as they make their way through space.
“The Love Rangers” demonstrates the extent to which Grant was influenced by Japanese art styles and themes, such as manga, his widow said. Lt. Teebee, the head of the squad, resembles the artist.
“To me that’s his self-caricature,” said Betsy Grant.
She said important themes in her husband’s work are communications and being a good American in other countries, ideas she believes are relevant to a diverse array of viewers. Grant’s fans range from teens who read manga to Vietnam veterans.
“I do hope they will get interested in the stories,” she said, adding that she has been on a mission to get her husband’s self-published works republished. “ ... He invented some great themes.”
Vernon Grant, also an avid runner, completed 27 marathons in his life. It was during a run that he suffered the heart attack that would ultimately cause his death several weeks later.
Betsy Grant said she hopes the community will visit the library to view the exhibition, which features enlarged copies of Grant’s artwork and will be on display at the library until the first week of May. An opening reception will be held during National Library Week and will feature a talk by Betsy Grant and some additional copies of the artist’s work, said Library Director Cathy Borck. Friends of the Kilbourn Public Library will provide refreshments.
Borck said the display is something a little different for the library.
“I think it’s interesting because it’s something new for us,” she said. “He did some cartooning, comic book series, graphic novels, and that’s something we haven’t showcased before.”
Betsy Grant said she thinks many different people can relate to her late husband’s work because of the truthful ways in which he drew inspiration from the world around him.
“He was one of those people that, as an artist, he did it the right way,” she said. “Everywhere we went, he always carried a pad of paper and a pen or a pencil. Usually both. And he would sketch things that looked interesting to him that we saw. He loved his work.”