Artist Uses ArtPrize Entries to Pay Tribute to Heroes
ArtPrize artist Dan Bledsaw appreciates heroes.
A pair of Michigan State Troopers saved his life in 2016 after he had a massive heart attack. That experience inspired him to use his artistic talents to spotlight heroes in his ArtPrize entries.
This year, he’s honoring Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, a Medal of Honor recipient who suffered fatal injuries in Iraq in 2005 while trying to rescue six comrades and an Iraqi interpreter from a burning vehicle.
His oil painting of Cashe will be displayed at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s downtown Grand Rapids headquarters, 86 Monroe Center St NW, during ArtPrize. The annual competition takes place in Grand Rapids from Thursday, Sept. 15, through Sunday, Oct. 2.
Act of heroism
On Oct. 17, 2005, 35-year-old Cashe was one of the few soldiers in his unit to escape his burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle after it was hit by an improvised explosive device.
As shots were being fired at the vehicle, Cashe went back into the inferno to rescue six of his trapped comrades.
“Three of them died, ” Bledsaw said. “But the point is they were able to take them to a hospital in Texas, and they were able to live long enough to see their families, which makes all the difference. He later died from his injuries.”
After hearing the story on the news, he learned a veteran at his church had served with Cashe.
“So when Tim told me he had served in Iraq with Sgt. Cashe, and I was already a big believer in heroes with the Michigan State Police, I’m like, You know what? This guy is amazing, and not enough people know about what he did,” Bledsaw said.
Capturing the drama
Bledsaw initially created a colored pencil drawing of Cashe in his camouflage fatigues wearing the Medal of Honor that was given posthumously Dec. 16, 2021. Tim delivered the artwork to Cashe’s family.
For ArtPrize, Bledsaw decided to do an oil painting of Cashe that told the story of his selfless actions.
“He was a real hero, and I wanted the painting to be dramatic. I want it to really tell the story. It shows him carrying one of the soldiers out. I got the fighting vehicle on fire behind them with the sky lit up. And then in the foreground, it’s dark. I just wanted it to look very stark. I wanted the left side to be the total tribute to him in his uniform with the medal around his neck.”
Bledaw’s lifesaving encounter with heroism happened In 2016 when he was driving back to Michigan from a family vacation. Feeling ill, he pulled over to the side of the road and collapsed of a massive heart attack. As his wife was calling 911, two state troopers stopped and administered CPR until an ambulance arrived.
“Those guys were heroes. Trooper Jim Janes got to me so quickly that he saved my life,” said Bledsaw, a Blues member, who did art as part of his rehabilitation.
Before the heart attack, Bledsaw had applied to be in his first ArtPrize with an image of a tree with a heart. The theme couldn’t have been more apt, says Bledsaw, a graphic designer with training in fine arts who works at the Newell Rubbermaid Design Center in Portage.
The watercolor sketch of a tree was based on a photo Bledsaw had taken in winter. Someone had made a heart of snow and packed it in the middle of the tree.
Honoring heroism of state troopers
The following year, 2017, he decided his ArtPrize entry would celebrate the Michigan State Police officers who saved his life.
“The great thing about art is you can use it to pay tribute to people,” Bledsaw said. ,
He submitted the idea of a three-panel painting dedicated to the Michigan State trooper who used an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restart his heart.
The three panels had a common theme of a heartline at the bottom. The far right panel depicted Trooper Jim James, and the far left panel held a metal badge with a heart shape inside with the message: “Hero of the heart.”
For the 2018 ArtPrize, Bledsaw honored the Michigan State Police. He was selected to paint a Honda CRX in Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids to look like a state police SUV. On the hood, he put a heart with the message: The first four minutes after a heart attack is crucial.
“For ArtPrize, a lot of it is about the idea,” said Bledsaw. “If you want to do something that’s popular and that resonates at ArtPrize, you need to have a powerful idea. And that’s the beauty of art – you can really express your beliefs. You can express things that really touch your heart.”
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- The Art of Michigan: Public Displays of Creativity Around the State
Photo credit: Dan Bledsaw