By Ron VandenBoom
Vernon The Boy considers himself a self-taught artist, but it was a high school art class and a special school teacher in Miles City that helped him discover his talent.
The Boy said he was "a troubled youth" when he first encountered Edna Fitz, an aging art teacher in Custer County. Fitz seemed to take a special interest in The Boy and encouraged him to develop his artistic potential.
Fitz, he said, bought him art supplies and made it possible for him to get his diploma.
About the same time, The Boy won an award at an art show he had entered, and some visitors to the show ordered one of his paintings, which featured some blue horses.
Time has dimmed The Boy's memory of the contest and the blue horses that were his first commercial success, but the impact at the time gave him a calling that continues to this day.
The public can see the colorful and varied works of The Boy in the Community Exhibit Gallery of the Heritage Center through the end of June. The area is located just to the left of the main entrance.
Several brightly colored portraits and numerous rock paintings show the versatility of mediums The Boy works with. Particularly unique are several examples of bone painting that reflect both the talent of the artist and The Boy's cultural ties.
Only one year of additional art training has been added to The Boy's resum since the time of Fitz's instruction. That was in 1967 when he attended Northern Montana College, but his small amount of formal training has not prevented him from being one of the most varied and prolific artists in the Havre area.
He has proven himself as a painter, illustrator and sculptor with a large clientele, which commissions him to paint portraits of elderly relatives from photographs and in real-life settings.
Some of his works are of Indian personalities such as legendary Cree leader Big Bear, and Young Boy, a friend of Charles M. Russell. Over the years, The Boy has participated in shows throughout Montana, including one in 1979 at the old Governor's Mansion in Helena.
The Boy has also illustrated the childrens books "Rocky Boy Animals," "The Buffalo Hunt," and "Number Book," which were all done during a time when he taught art classes at Rocky Boy School. The Boy also has recently completed a 10-foot-tall wood sculpture of an Indian version of Jesus for the Rocky Boy Lutheran Church. The sculpture was carved with a chain saw.
The Boy also worked to help complete the domed roof of the church, which was constructed to appear as a traditional Indian sweat lodge.
Another well-known The Boy work is the mural on the wall of the Big Sandy Museum. The wall depicts a Indian encampment scene. It has been dedicated to the memory of The Boy's wife and 16-year-old son, who died less than 60 days following completion of the work.
The Boy is an enrolled Gros Ventre of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation who makes his home in Havre and in Box Elder.