Peter Wege finances educational efforts by BETH ALTENA Whether Rockford artist Mark Heckman’s billboards made people laugh or shocked them, they were always noticed. Now, after Heckman’s death in May 2010 at age 49, following a two-year battle against non-Hodgekins lymphoma, the passion that inspired him lives on in a book tour aimed at raising environmental awareness. With the financial backing of philanthropist Peter Wege, Heckman’s book “Sooper Yooper: Environmental Defender,” illustrated by Heckman and written by best friend and author Mark Newman (check), is making its rounds throughout the country, spreading the message that every individual can make a difference in protecting our environment. “It’s something they both wanted to do for a long time,” said Heckman’s widow, Diane. Diane said she and Newman visit schools across the Midwest, presenting “Sooper Yooper” and providing teachers with lesson plans, worksheets and a copy of the book. They have presented their interactive road show in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, including right here in Rockford. “Sooper Yooper” features hero Billy Cooper, who purposefully is a hero lacking in super powers. This point is to emphasize that anyone, not those with special powers, can protect our natural resources. Billy chases down zebra mussels, sea lamprey and other threats to the environment. “Sooper Facts” offer some sobering statistics regarding the dangers of ballast water from interoceanic freighters that regularly visit the Great Lakes and the resultant 180-plus invasive aquatic species already entrenched in our waters. Diane said the presentation, often with the Heckman family dog, Tank—included in the book as Mighty Mac—has been given to over 7,000 children and will visit schools as requested at least through the year. The program is supplemented by an art contest offering scholarships to students. The illustrations are “typical Heckman,” Diane said. The artist worked on the book during his illness and refused to let his health darken his unconventional view of the world—a view he was always eager to share. Heckman was a nationally recognized artist whose work was featured on the pages of Times and Newsweek before the age of 27. He was commissioned to create the portrait of President Gerald Ford that hangs in the state capital. Much of his work had a touch of “shock value,” […]
Cancer-stricken artist vows ‘If it’s the last thing I do’ Rockford artist Mark Heckman refuses to be down in the mouth about his health when winning ArtPrize could give him another shot at realizing his dream of creating a lasting monument to Grand Rapids. Heckman, who is battling stage III non-Hodgkins lymphoma, is unveiling a series of artistic billboards to draw attention to his renewed effort to erect a giant tooth sculpture to honor the city as the first in the nation to fluoridate its water. “I don’t want sympathy – I want votes,” said Heckman, who has adopted the persona of The Tooth Fairy for his artistic campaign. “I’m going to keep fighting tooth and nail for this project—if it’s the last thing I do.” His ArtPrize entry centers around a number of CBS outdoor billboards in downtown Grand Rapids, including the tongue-in-cheek “First In Fluoride” which depicts George Washington and the Tooth Fairy crossing the city’s Grand River with a mammoth molar. “It’s a fact that the father of our country had terrible dentures,” Heckman said, noting that Washington had lost all but one of his teeth by the time of his inauguration. “He probably should have spent more time brushing and less time cutting down cherry trees.” Heckman, who has garnered worldwide attention with his billboards about AIDS, racism and various environmental issues, has also painted a pair of side-by-side billboards that promote Grand Rapids Tap Water with the advertising slogan, “Tastes Great. Less Fillings.” “I feel the art world has a giant cavity that is waiting to be filled with my project,” he said. “There is no question that a giant tooth would draw attention to Grand Rapids’ place in dental history.” ArtPrize, which has drawn artists from around the world to the biggest competition of its kind, will be decided by a public vote between Sept. 23 and Oct. 7.