Suwannee Democrat


February 6, 2014

Jennings artist Kern Baxter is bound to glory

Jasper — Library Snapshot Day on Wednesday, Jan. 15, brought a very special guest to Jennings Public Library, by the name of Kern Baxter, an extremely talented artist whose original painting, “Bound to Glory”, hangs in the White House in Washington, D.C.

The painting

As Baxter pointed to a framed print of the “Bound to Glory” painting he brought with him to the library, he said, “That was actually on the press being run while we were being attacked on 9/11. It's really a bizarre story,” he added.

Years ago, Baxter worked as a crane operator, but the industry was experiencing hard times. One day he decided he didn't want to be on the job, so he left.

“This was back in 1998 and things were pretty slow,” he said.

He had spoken to a pastor about his desire to be an artist and the pastor told him if he ever did a painting of an eagle he'd buy a print from him.

“He was just trying to encourage me,” said Baxter, who explained that he used to paint quite a bit about 15 years ago.

Back then, he said, it would take months to do just one painting. He asked the pastor how much he wanted to pay for a print of an eagle and the pastor said a couple hundred dollars. Since he was broke at the time, Baxter thought a couple hundred bucks sounded pretty good. This was before the digital age and Baxter knew he had to have an original canvas painting in order to have prints made.

He was living on an island off the coast of Cape Coral at the time. Doing the painting, he said, was a spur of the moment thing. He went to Home Depot and found a can of rejected blue house paint. Then he went home to begin painting the background of his masterpiece on an old, moldy piece of canvas.

“Within minutes, it turned black,” Baxter said. “I thought, this is really strange. This isn't going to work for the idea I had. It changed the whole course and direction of the painting.”

He decided to add some brown paint, and instead of a flying eagle that he had first envisioned, the bald eagle in the painting was now sitting.

“I didn't know what I was doing,” he said with a snicker.

Inspiration suddenly struck and Baxter had more than 80 percent of the painting done the first day; something that would have normally taken months, he said.

“At night time when I looked at it, I could see the face of George Washington,” he said, as he pointed to the upper right hand corner of the print. “It looked just like a dollar bill. The next day I put on the 13 stars in a circle.”

Next came the dove, the flag, the Bible, the gold watch and numerous other intricate details.

“It was really pretty cool,” said Baxter.

When it was completed, he placed it in a $10 garage sale frame.

The 9/11 connection

Now comes the eerie part. Baxter said somewhere deep within himself he knew that the painting was going to wind up at the White House. He was afraid to show it to the pastor at that point, since the pastor had basically commissioned him to do the painting. A few weeks later, he got on the computer and wrote the inspirational message that accompanies the painting.

“I was certain it was going to be in the White House,” he said. “Everybody thought I was crazy. They thought I was delusional, but I just knew. I was absolutely positive, so I wasn't going to sell it.”

The finished painting, Baxter said, was stored in a 30 foot travel trailer for the next year. In 2001, two weeks before 9/11, he was working for an architect who happened to see the painting. He urged Baxter to get prints made. Baxter said he didn't have the thousands of dollars needed to make the first print, so the architect offered to pay for it.

Baxter made arrangements with the printer and had the original print transferred to a disk where he could make any needed changes. The prints were going to be run as soon as he brought the disk back to the printer.

On Monday, Sept. 10, 2001, he was ready to take the disk back to the printer. He also had to take a visiting guest back to Naples.

“I was just getting ready to go over the Cape Coral Bridge to go to Naples and I missed my turn to go to the printers to drop off my disk,” he said.

He immediately turned around, went back, and finally got the disk dropped off.

“On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, as the prints were being run, we had the 9/11 attacks,” said Baxter.

The road to the White House

The painting's journey to the White House is even more fascinating. Baxter was out of work, sitting on the couch everyday, bummed out and watching TV.

His wife asked what he planned on doing and he said, “I don't know, but it has something to do with that painting. Artists are crazy like that,” he added.

He saw on the news that former President George Bush Sr. and his son, then Florida Governor Jeb Bush were coming to Naples to do a fundraiser.

Baxter told his wife, “I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to give him the only reproduction I have.”

Baxter set out to find a decent frame and wound up having the print framed out of the trunk of a woman's car. With the framed print in hand, he went to the fundraiser in a white van. He was stopped outside by security, but after explaining he was there to give the painting to the governor, he was let through.

After successfully traversing through a maze of security checkpoints throughout the building, he left the painting with a woman and gave her instructions to give it to the governor.

“The next morning I get a call,” Baxter said.

It was the governor's office asking questions about the painting. Baxter was told he'd have to donate the painting to the state, who would then donate it to the governor. Before the call ended, Baxter explained his intent was to give the original painting to then President George W. Bush.

Two days later, Baxter got a letter of thanks from the governor, who stated he would forward the painting to the president.

“The only problem was, I had the original and he had a copy,” Baxter said.

After a phone call to the governor's office and then a phone call to the White House, Baxter shipped the original painting to the president. He was later invited to personally present the painting to then President George W. Bush.

A framed print of “Bound to Glory” hangs on the wall at Jennings Public Library and another is proudly displayed at Bank of America in Jasper.

Ghost Rider

Baxter brought another painting with him to the event that was even more spectacular. He titled it “Ghost Rider”, and said he was inspired to paint it after listening to the song of a similar title, “Ghost Riders in the Sky”.

This painting, just like “Bound to Glory”, encompasses a multitude of hidden meanings and intricate details, which is something Baxter thrives on creating.

Baxter, his wife and two teenage children now reside in Oak Woodlands in Jennings, where he continues to pursue his artistic passion.

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