Born in Coon Rapids, MN to Jack and Jan Hettwer on April 24, 1978. Jeff was the younger of two sons.
Today would have been our seven year wedding anniversary. He was my husband and my best friend. We were high school sweethearts who met in a painting class and he lived to become an incredibly talented artist that I am extremely proud of. I feel so lucky for every moment that we shared together and he will be greatly missed. His family, friends, and I are all devastated by his sudden death and we thank you all for your love and support. "Baby, I love you and I know that you'll help us all get through this."
Jun 30, 2008 11:13 pm US/Central
Next week, an artist from the Twin Cities will be honored with an art show he dreamed of. His grieving wife is making it possible. Jeff Hettwer died in a car crash two weeks ago. He was a passenger in a car that slammed into a parked SUV in Oak Grove.
There was never a question about what Jeff Hettwer would do, he always wanted to paint. Painting was his passion.
Kelly Hettwer was married to Jeff for almost seven years. She's still struggling with the loss.
"People say it's going to get better, but they don't know what we had," she said. "I'm just going to miss him so much."
In his studio space in the Northrup King Building in Northeast Minneapolis, there are dozens and dozens of paintings that fill the walls.
"He had a lot he wanted to say and he was a man of few words," Kelly said. "That's why he liked to paint."
Now, his wife will see to it that his work is still seen and a dream of his comes true. Next week, the Walker Art Center will dedicate a night to his work.
"I just think he would be happy to have a lot of people see his artwork. That really meant a lot to him, " she said.
That memorial art show for Jeff Hettwer will be held Wednesday, July 9. It runs from 6 to 11 pm in the Skyline Room. Dunwoody College will provide free parking for the event that night.
The driver, 25-year-old Christopher Anderson, has been charged for causing Jeff Hettwer's death and for leaving the scene of the accident that night. The prosecutor in the case said Anderson could face up to four years in prison if he's convicted.
Inside the Northrup King Building in northeast Minneapolis, a closet is home to more than 100 paintings and might be the most colorful space in the city.
"I just don't want to see them sitting in here for the rest of time," said Kelly Hettwer, as she flipped through the paintings that used to fill a studio 10 times as large as the storeroom.
She knows the story on each canvas intimately "That painting," she said, pointing to a small picture of actor Harrison Ford, "is from 1995, and Jeff and I met in a painting class in high school."
She laughed as she remembered when the artist asked her if she wanted to keep the painting.
"I said sure, and he said, 'Do you want my phone number to go along with it?' "
All of the paintings, together, add up to 13 years - time that began at Blaine High School and then stretched west to California, where one of the works was inspired by the news Kelly and Jeff watched on TV there.
It's an ominous drip-style painting Jeff named "Stress." Jeff went through different phases, Kelly said. Sometimes, as was the case with "Stress," he was channeling American abstract painter Jackson Pollock.
At other times, he was influenced by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. But always, through those years, Jeff Hettwer was inspired by Kelly, whom he married in 2001.
Today, she is the curator of that closet. "He just tried a lot of different styles," she said, as her voice started to shake. "And I just look at them and think he was so successful at each one. "And I'm sad for the pieces that he isn't going to make - that we're not going to see."
A little more than a year ago, on June 14, 2008, deputies told Kelly that Jeff had been a passenger in a BMW, driven by a friend of a friend, after a night of drinking.
"The morning the sheriffs came here, and the doorbell rang," Kelly's voice trailed off as she told the story, "it was 7:19." The deputies told her Jeff was killed when the BMW slammed into a parked SUV. "It was just so surreal. The sheriff just picked me up off the ground and brought me in the house."
Jeff was 30 years old. He died two days before their seventh wedding anniversary.
"We just used to lay in bed at night and talk about everything," Kelly said. "And we'd talk for hours and just ... laying in our bed by myself was, that was really hard." Until that night, they lived what Kelly called a dream.
They bought a home on Ham Lake, they traveled, and Jeff made a living doing what he loved. Jeff's paintings attracted crowds at art fairs and open houses.
His style, or better said, styles, caught the eyes of students who learned something different from each canvas. "I think about all of the young people that came into his studio with their sketchbooks and asked him for advice on things," Kelly said. With that voice now silenced, and the last drip of paint long dried, Kelly's last wish for Jeff is that his work becomes someone else's inspiration. "I just really want his art to live on, even though he couldn't."
She now dreams of seeing Jeff's pieces at a museum like the Walker Art Center, where she once smuggled one of his paintings inside and snapped a picture for his 18th birthday.
"And then I gave him a little note that said one day, his art would be hanging there permanently."
Later this fall, curators from the Walker say they'll visit that storage space at the Northrup King Building and review Jeff's paintings. It's the first step in considering his work for the Walker's permanent collection.
"I just told him all the time how lucky we were," Kelly said, remembering their 13 years together. "If your goal is to make someone else happy, and their goal is to make you happy, it probably doesn't get much better than that."
At Jeff's funeral, Kelly said their love was more than "10 lifetimes" could hold. What he left behind, she says, is too bright to stay hidden closet.
On the web: Jeff's memorial site: http://jeffhettwer.com
Kelly's Facebook page for Jeff: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=102317336060&ref=ts
University of Minnesota Scholarship in Jeff's name: http://www.giving.umn.edu/hettwer
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