“I want to give my art teacher, John Lonero, a lot of credit because he was so important in my life and he had high standards of presentation,” said Hettiger, who graduated in 1967. “He was a really good teacher and that’s all I can say, he was so amazing. He let you experiment. My cousin [John Dickerson] and I, all four years of high school, stayed in the art room at the school every night until seven, eight o’clock at night.”
Then, in 1969, Hettiger’s life took a very different course: he enlisted in the U.S. Army and went to fight in Vietnam.
While there, Hettiger kept making art, and started to create work depicting what the war was like. He started a combat art section at his division headquarters, where he and three other Army artists did illustrations for the division newspaper and yearbook. Hettiger also did side projects like designing a Christmas card for a general and painting pilot’s names onto their helicopters.
“After I came home from Vietnam, I painted Vietnam for 30 years,” Hettiger said. “It kind of was an outlet. You know what I mean? I tried to take the hurt, put it into artwork.”
Following his time in Vietnam, he continued to paint scenes of soldiers and wartime while still making wildlife art. In 1976, he took a Humane Society trip to Kenya and Tanzania with Roger Caras and started to paint the animals he saw there. That same year, with a grant from the Florida Audubon Society, he went to a bird painting seminar in Trinidad.
Over a long career, Hettiger has shown both his Vietnam art and his wildlife work at many venues. His designs of Long Island ducks won a contest and were made into stamps, his artwork has appeared on greeting cards and calendars of the Long Island Nature Conservancy and his Vietnam art work has exhibited all around the country.
Now, he primarily paints local landscapes that show off the natural beauty of the East End, where he’s spent most of his life. Whether its a painting of a bird flying over a marsh, a local waterway, or even a portrait of a raccoon Hettiger raised, in each painting you can see the attention, care and love he has for nature.
“I’ve been doing wildlife and local landscapes from the ’70s to the present,” Hettiger explained. “I don’t do Vietnam anymore. I figure after 30 years, I’d done enough. I didn’t really want to keep going back there all the time.”
On Saturday, August 21, at 1 p.m., Hettiger will be at the East Hampton Historical Farm Museum to talk about some of his paintings that will be on display there. The exhibit will consist of his combat work from Vietnam, images of African wildlife, and his more recent local landscape scenes.
Even all these years after he first started drawing as a little kid, Hettiger still has a strong passion for art.
“I’ll draw for like six hours,” he said. “I spend a lot of time drawing and painting. Sometimes I don’t even drink my coffee, like, ‘I’ve still got three-quarters of a cup of coffee, six hours later!’”
The East Hampton Historical Farm Museum is located at the corner of North Main and Cedar streets. The rain date for Hettiger’s presentation is August 22 at 1 p.m. For more information, contact 631-324-3892.