Peter Wege

Artist’s passion for environment lives on in book

March 10, 2011 // 0 Comments

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,” […]