Md. man paints portraits for families of fallen veterans
The Frederick News-Post, Md.
FREDERICK, Md. — Kellen "Buck" Musser hasn't collected a penny from the more than 100 paintings he's completed for families of fallen veterans, veteran groups and military organizations over the last decade.
The one thing he said he hopes for in return: a "thank-you."
"How can you charge for something like that?" said Diane Simmons, Musser's first art instructor, who met him at a palette knife class 10 years ago.
"It's honoring their child or brother that they've lost, and you can't put a price tag on something like that."
The Frederick resident is a Vietnam veteran and retired maintenance employee for the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
The painting outreach has given him notoriety. He is frequently contacted by fellow veterans, military officials or municipalities to request a portrait of a local resident killed in action, Musser said.
His most memorable portrait was of David Smith, a Marine reservist from Frederick who died in Afghanistan in 2010. The portrait took him about 50 hours to complete before he gave the original to Smith's mother, Musser said.
"Just to meet her and see the smile she had on her face and the tears, that's worth more than anything in my life," he said.
Musser grew up in Brunswick. He dropped out of high school and joined the Army. When he retired from his career in Frederick, he decided to take up painting as an opportunity to offer something for local families struggling with losing a loved one overseas.
"He's given us several pictures to hang inside the AMVETS inside the club," said Kim Palmer, a member of AMVETS Post 9 in Middletown. "He's done historical buildings and given it to towns. His work is all over."
She said she accepts donated works from Musser to use for fundraisers.
"I just think it's so generous that he helps the community," she said.
The 75-year-old doesn't spend much time without his paintbrushes and palette knives in hand. He is working on six different pieces and uses his small kitchen table as his makeshift art studio.
"This one right here is for the Marines," he said pointing to a canvas with an outline of a person's hand holding a U.S. Marine Corps insignia.
He said he owes it to the military to give back.
"I was a kid coming up from a broken home. I had nothing," Musser said. "I didn't know what bacon was before I went in the military. I never had a suit before I went into the military."
The heaps of prints, frames and canvasses stockpiled in his single-story, one-bedroom house are intermingled with binders of his works, newspaper clippings, archival documents of his paintings' subjects and several thank-you letters.
He plans to one day pass on the binders to his two grandchildren — ages 12 and 10 — who are also learning to paint.
Simmons said she still sees Musser at her classes, now held at Ken's Art and Frame on Industry Lane in Frederick every Saturday.
"He's very meticulous. If they're in uniform he wants the insignia and buttons to look just right," she said. "His work is very sentimental and very emotional, and I admire him for doing it."