Rick Kelley


Rick KelleySpending part of his childhood in Great Falls, Montana, Rick Kelley was inspired by Charlie Russell to give painting a shot. He was in the sixth grade when he took his first lesson—a free seminar at the local Sherwin Williams. The instructor told Kelley he had a great eye for color and realism, and the experience motivated Kelley to pursue his artistic talents.

Kelley had a particular knack for acrylic wildlife paintings. He was such a natural that he was able to sell his artwork immediately. In fact, the only original he hasn’t sold is the first painting he ever made—he gave that one to grandma.

Then, on September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center fell. Within ten days of the tragedy, Kelley completed On Freedom's Wing as a tribute to those lost in the attack. In 2003, the Safari Club invited Kelley to be their first ever "featured artist" at their national banquet and convention. Kelley donated prints of his work to the fundraising auction that accompanied the event, one to be given to each of the winning bidders.

Former President George H. W. Bush also attended the banquet that night, and the Safari Club presented him with three master canvases of Kelley’s work. After the presentation, Bush invited Kelley to meet him in Houston. 
At their meeting, Bush talked to Kelley about getting a set of master canvases for his son, George W. Bush, but said they would have to wait until George W. was out of the White House (otherwise the paintings would end up in the National Treasury.) At the end of the visit, Bush gave Kelley a set of his presidential shirt cuffs and a tie clasp.

In addition to making an impression on the former President, Kelley’s work also made a big difference in the lives of American troops. General Norman Schwarzkopf, a retired military commander and war hero, had been writing to the troops using the
On Freedom’s Wing image on a card made by Leaning Tree Greeting Cards. The General told Kelley he could no longer find the cards blank on the inside for writing to the troops, so Kelley arranged for Leaning Tree to make more so the General could fulfill his mission.

Later, Kelley and his wife, Shawn, continued to show gratitude for the military by stating a project called “For Families of the Fallen.” Every family that lost a loved one in Afghanistan or Iraq was invited to send the name of the fallen hero to Kelley. Kelley would make a personalized name plate which was put on a print and sent to the grieving family at no charge.

Kelley’s experience with the project motivated him to paint The Homecoming, a painting that represents the sacrifice given by soldiers, firefighters, religious figures, and others who have given (or continue to give) everything for the betterment of all.

“It gives Shawn and me a lot of gratification to help people,” says Kelley. “I paint to tell a story and I like to tell stories with happy endings. Good things can come out of tragedies.”

Painting with a strong faith and exceptional talent, Kelley hopes that his work can make a difference in the lives of military members and their families. Everyone knows the saying, “War is hell.” Kelley wants to bring some peace to those who have been through it.

On Freedom's Wing

Perhaps his most important piece ever, On Freedom's Wing was Rick's response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Frustrated like most Americans with the cruelty that was bestowed on his country, Kelley felt that he had to do something. He remembered the beauty of Montana’s mountains and envisioned a rocky peak dotted with snow partially shadowed to create the image of the American flag.

After completing On Freedom's Wing, Kelley immediately decided to donate 10% of all proceeds to the American Red Cross Liberty Disaster Relief Fund. At that time he was living in Minnesota, and a local news station picked up the story of Kelley and his painting. After giving his first interview about the piece, Kelley appeared on three other news stations. “People got to know me by my face. That’s pretty rare for an artist,” Kelley jokes.

The story behind On Freedom’s Wing touched so many Americans that within a year, Kelley had sold 600,000 prints.

"I knew I would sell a few prints which would make for a small donation to the Red Cross," Kelley says. "I'm still shocked that four months after I finished painting On Freedom’s Wing I was able to make a donation of $40,000. I'm so glad I could help out."

Messenger acquired the license to On Freedom's Wing in 2003, and used this inspirational piece of artwork to create the stationery series of the same name. This series quickly became one of Messenger's most popular designs. Rick Kelley's On Freedom's Wing is featured on numerous Messenger products including register books, service folders, acknowledgement cards, bookmarks, prayer cards, and more.