KUNA — Unlike his San Francisco friend, Ken Wilson didn’t have to die to be known for his art.

Though Wilson can’t remember this man’s name, his story is one that influenced Wilson’s career choice.

Wilson, now a Kuna resident, lived in a commercial-building loft in North Beach, California with four other artists. Each had their own bed in a corner.

Wilson’s friend did huge wall murals, “but never sold a one,” Wilson said.

The five would go out to parties.

“I’ll say this,” Wilson said, “It put me among some of the neatest people I ever met … Alfred Hitchcock, Deanne Andrews … some really colorful people.”

Canvas stretched across a garage wall served as a collaborative mural. Attending artists would add their flare to the piece.

On the night of that gathering, Wilson’s friend said he didn’t feel like going.

Four of the five went. When they returned to the loft, around 4 a.m., their roommate was gone.

The next morning, as Wilson ordered his coffee, he noticed a headline in the paper about a suicide committed by jumping off the Bay Bridge.

Wilson knew it was his friend.

Following his death, sale prices of his art work skyrocketed. Everyone else was getting the money, Wilson said, and the artist was dead.

“If that’s what it takes to be a successful artist,” Wilson said, “I quit.”

INSTEAD OF ART ...

Following World War II, in search of work, Wilson’s family moved to Nampa in 1948. Wilson’s grandfather lived in Kuna before. Wilson’s father was a welder, and went back to work for Union Pacific Railroad, which went through Kuna.

“I don’t know why (my parents) picked Kuna,” Wilson said. “Jobs weren’t really available to a man who had limited experience.”

While attending high school in Kuna, Wilson put lead in the press for the Kuna Herald. At that time, the only paved road in town was Main Street.

In 1957 he joined the Navy and was stationed in Japan in Beachmaster Unit 1 for the first two years of his service.

While aboard a ship headed to Melbourne, Australia, Wilson kept seeing gold shining from a lighthouse. Wilson was taken to visit the lighthouse where his fascination with them began.

“The more I read, the more I became interested,” he said. “They’re an important part of our history. If not for lighthouses we wouldn’t be here.”

Two thousand five hundred ships in a graveyard in the Pacific attest to that.

“All because they didn’t have a lighthouse,” Wilson said.

His favorite lighthouse is Terrible Tilly in Tillamook, Oregon. Ships can’t dock there because of the rocks, so products and people are delivered via rigging off the ship.

“It took a long time to level off rock to where they could put a lighthouse on there,” Wilson said.

Inspired, Wilson began building scale-model lighthouses, utilizing original blueprints and skills he developed studying architecture.

Like his artistic career, Wilson said that didn’t go far.

So, in Kuna, Wilson made a career in the railroad industry after first attending Boise State University for graphic designing and architecture.

“I picked the wrong school,” he said. “I should have went to U of I, but I lived here in Kuna and I was working for a railroad. But, that’s OK. Everything is an experience. You learn from everything you do.”

55 YEARS LATER …

After 55 years of working — in the Navy, then on railroads in Kuna and Utah — Wilson does graphic designing. He started doing little graphic dinosaurs on the computer for his grandchildren, designing them on posters.

Due to his cataract surgery, Wilson couldn’t build the lighthouse models any more.

Wilson’s children brought a computer over and taught Wilson how to use it. Wilson got interested in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. After reading about the programs, Wilson started using them for graphic designing — this way he didn’t have to erase his mistakes.

“An old person that has an income ... that’s when you should be an artist,” Wilson said with a laugh. “You don’t have to worry about where you’ll get your next meal.”

One of Wilson’s recent pieces depicts a green-haired woman, clad in a white dress, holding a kite draped in seaweed. It is displayed in the Kuna library and in Richard Cardoza’s insurance office.

Calypso, daughter of Poseidon, god of water, found a kite in the water that fell. That’s the reason two eyes are on it. It’s part of an old kite. She added to it with sticks and seaweed.

The poster was selected to advertise an annual kite festival in Washington. Wilson said it took about 200 “layers” of images and colors, all created on Wilson’s computer, to complete the piece. Every time Wilson adds an image, it is added as a layer, so that Wilson can move it around on the picture, or delete it.

Wilson said he likes this better than erasing, which he’d do if he was designing by hand.

“I see the picture in my mind,” Wilson said. “And I know exactly how it will be on paper.”

Wilson designed his winning kite poster in 2006. Wilson said he was “always going to enter it, but never did.” This past year, Wilson’s son encouraged him to submit it.

Some of Wilson’s art will be on display July 8 for the Kuna Artist and Crafters event put on by the city.

Now that he’s retired, Wilson, at 78 years old, has time, and money, to create designs of Swan Falls Dam, posters of Kuna Days and the rodeo, and historic images of downtown Kuna.

“It’s been an interesting and eventful life,” Wilson said. “I got to do about everything I wanted to do.”

Alx George is the Kuna Melba News reporter. Contact her at 922-3008 or editor@kunamelba.com.

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