Air Force veteran keeps fallen soldiers' memories alive through portraits in NW Houston gallery

Ken Pridgeon's gallery, Fallen Warriors Memorial Gallery, is located at 13455 Cutten Road.

Rosie Nguyen Image
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
Man dedicates free gallery to fallen veterans in northwest Houston
Ken Pridgeon, 87, says the key to living a long life is finding passion and purpose in his portraits, which take 40 hours to paint per 18 x 20 piece.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The memory of hundreds of servicemen and women continue to live on through the brush strokes of a Houston man.

After Hurricane Harvey forced Ken Pridgeon to relocate from his home in Baytown, he found a new home for not only himself, but his passion and purpose in the northwest part of Houston.

Pridgeon served in the Air Force for 10 years as a communications technician.

Although he never went to art school or received formal training, he's been a painter most of his life, working on window signs and billboards throughout the area. In 2010, he was tapped to paint a portrait of fallen Army Pfc. Wesley Riggs and then Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Ainsworth. He says the rest is history.

"I never intended to paint more than one. But this mission was given to me, and it brought me right in. I want to show people that you can still have dreams and start something new at 75 years old," said Pridgeon.

He just celebrated his birthday on May 25 and says the key to his longevity is finding passion and purpose. For Pridgeon, that's by memorializing the servicemen and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

"It gave me something to do and live to be 87 years old. You can't sit on the back porch and in the rocking chair and live 87 years," he said.

Over the last decade, Pridgeon's painted hundreds of fallen soldiers, showcasing a glimpse of their lives, whether it's their childhood memories, hobbies, or loved ones. He gives an 18x24 version to all of the families and never charges them a dime. Most of his financial costs are supported through donations from the community.

"Each portrait takes about 40 hours. But you can't ask the family for money. They've already given their son or their daughter," he said. "It's a small Band-Aid on the heart of a Gold Star family. You'll never understand the impact of a Gold Star family waiting years for their loved ones to come home and then having a chaplain show up at their door. If you knew, you'd never ask for war again."

And it doesn't stop there. Pridgeon wanted to take their memory beyond the family's home. That's why he displays large canvasses of each soldier at the Fallen Warriors Memorial Gallery in northwest Houston. He gives free tours to the public, sharing stories of these fallen soldiers so that their legacy can live on.

"Memorial Day is every day in this gallery. We will never forget. We tell their stories, because they don't talk anymore. The families deserve that," he said.

Bryan McAlister, who just moved to the area, was one of the visitors who brought his family here on Memorial Day.

"It's inspiring. It's uplifting. It's a true tribute to these great families. Ken knows the absence that is felt by these families. This is a reminder of how valuable they are. For our kids to be able to see that and know that they enjoy freedoms that others have helped to preserve is a great blessing," said McAlister.

"I think it's a true honor what Ken's done for all the families. I would be blessed to have someone like Ken to take care of someone that I love just like this and make sure they are remembered forever," said McAlister's son, Connor.

Pridgeon plans to continue painting every day and says he has no plans to stop anytime soon.

"You'll have to take the paintbrush out of my dead hands," he said.

Fallen Warriors Memorial Gallery is located at 13455 Cutten Road in Houston. They are open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., or by appointment. To schedule a tour or for more information, call (832) 868-9810.