No matter how many warships, cows and people Travis Keese depicts in his work, there is always something new to discover as he paints — that’s what’s kept his paintbrushes sweeping across canvases since at least the 1950s.
“I’m always seeing something else that I want to paint,” Keese said. “The more you mature, the more you change and still look for new horizons, I always say.”
While Keese, 87, loves to paint animals, he also does a lot of work that’s military-related. He got his college degree in art at the University of Houston at the same time he was going through training for the U.S. Army.
“I went overseas on a ship and came back on a ship,” Keese said with a smile. “I got familiar with ships.”
Keese has sold the fruits of his artistic talents to many galleries across the state, from Midland to Corpus Christi. It’s the museum in Corpus Christi — the Museum of Science and History — that spring-boarded him into making model ships. That museum offered him $5,000 to make a model warship display.
But his first model was something he did for fun: a modeling kit for the USS Missouri.
“The bigger the ship, the bigger the guns,” Keese said. “That’s what got me interested in building my first model of the USS Missouri. The way they could mold all those pieces and make it look so real, it was really interesting to me.”
After those two projects, Keese’s model-making took sail. He made some ships from scratch, while others were built from kits. At one point, he built a complete task force, with about 50 ships in total.
“Most of them were to scale,” Keese said. “In the apartment we had in Houston, I spread them out on the rug, and they were quite a sight together.”
Keese also has worked on murals. His first job after serving in the Army was at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where he painted a mural of the moon.
“Back, off in the distance, (was) the Earth as seen from the astronauts on the moon,” Keese said. “This is before they made the first trip. The National Geographic had an article come out and had pictures of what the lunar machines would look like, so I could do a painting of them in orbit before they had actually gone. It was quite thrilling.”
Many projects and galleries later, Keese, his wife, Betty, and their three children moved to Kerrville in 1971, where he and Betty have resided since. Since moving here, Keese’s main artistic focus has been painting animals.
“There are a lot of people who have artistic talents,” Keese said. “I’ve know some of them. Some of them are in my family. But they didn’t choose to make that their way of living. It’s probably a wise choice. With so many people doing amateur painting, the market is hard to get into and get the price you need to get going.”