Heckelman discovers new light with move to Tryon

Published 10:58 pm Monday, September 16, 2013

Six generations of explorers and dreamers handed down the traveling gene to Lori Heckelman, local equestrian and artist. She laced on her traveling shoes and traipsed to Tryon six years ago.

Lori Heckelman

Lori Heckelman

“My people have moved so much, and I inherited that adventurous spirit,” she said. “One generation went from Boston to Iowa, and the next ended up in Oregon. We kept moving west till we hit the Pacific Ocean. Nobody planted any roots.”

She grew up on an island in the San Francisco Bay, and frolicked in the surf for hours at a time. It was a safer time then, peaceful, and she remembers staying out late into the night with no fear at all. When she met her husband, Bruce, he played a lot of tennis and could wear his shorts to work at a tennis club. Soon, they packed up their VW van and moved to a high mountain valley by a lake in Utah, going from the ocean to a land of snow and wilderness.

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“I could get on my horse, go out the back gate, and ride all the way to Wyoming,” she said. “I rode six hours out one day and never even hit a fence. It was wide open space, blue sky, a good place to raise kids.”

Heckelman’s degree is in fine art, and when younger, she created wood sculpture landscapes of laminated plywood, with layers upon layers. They looked like rock formations she later saw in Utah.

“I didn’t realize until much later that I was sculpting places that I would go,” she said.

In 1972, Heckelman began illustrating mathematics textbooks, and her career soared for decades. She did graphic design, editing, brochures and more.

“Technical art paid the bills,” she said. “It was a good career path while I was raising my children, but it’s been a long time before I could get back to my art.”

The kids grew up. One daughter, with stage name Lux Land, married a rock star. She sings and writes songs in Michigan while raising two children. Another daughter, Melyn, works in South Sudan and Burundi, doing humanitarian work in global health clinics.

The Heckelmans wanted a change from the beautiful, muted rock formations of Utah, so they made a demographic study of where to move. They needed a place where Heckelman could ride her black horse, Fury, in the east, but with little snow. Their search led to Tryon, where Heckelman discovered the light that she needed most.

“The quality of light, especially in fall, is so bright and filled with color, almost overwhelming. So many trees bloom with flowers, the mountain laurel, azaleas, rhododendrons, and then in fall, the bright colors,” she said. “Moving here required an aesthetic shift. It’s been a welcome change, so green and lush, a place where everything grows.”

As Heckelman discovered this new light, the technical art world changed dramatically. Companies began outsourcing to India. What looked like a career calamity became a blessing, though, as Heckelman rediscovered her passion for fine art.

“I paint custom portraits on commission,” she said. “I use realism, and it’s a holdover, from being an illustrator for so many years, paying attention to the details.”

Heckelman paints many different animals from photos or real life, and she maintains special affinity for portraits of dogs.

“Dogs are so happy. They love everything,” she said. “Dogs intrigue me because they represent a link to our primitive instincts and the natural world, our wild side. Dogs don’t care about the coffee maker, the lawn mower, the car. They live in the moment, naturally doing what they were born to do.”

In Tryon, Heckelman has found time to do what she was born to do, too.