Desert Sun: Artist Extends His ‘Reach’ in Times of Tragedy

Stacy Wiedmaier • The Desert Sun

Marilyn Chung, Desert Sun

Marilyn Chung, Desert Sun

Local Palm Springs artist Vernon Finney said he was born with a paint brush in his hand. Finney, 83, has been given an opportunity to reach out to strangers through his most famous and recognizable oil painting, simply titled “Reach.”

He began the 10-foot-by-7-foot canvas in 1987 and added his signature to the finished masterpiece on Christmas morning 1990. His design took 3,000 hours to complete, including advance sketches.

Finney’s friend and Incredible Artist gallery owner, Rick Pantele, said he had the idea to print lithographs of the original piece to send to victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

“The hands pictured reaching out to each other is an international symbol of hope and faith,” Pantele said. “Within two weeks of 9/11, I had the lithograph design put together and they were printed within a month.”

Pantele said the first four framed and signed prints were sent to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Gov. George Pataki and the New York City police and fire chiefs. Both Pantele and Finney received a personal letter of thanks from Guiliani.

Since 2001, more than 2,000 signed and dated prints have been mailed to strangers in hopes of offering a small piece of comfort to victims. Pantele said he learns of possible recipients by watching the evening news, keeping a stack of index cards close by to take note of local tragedies such as soldier’s deaths and the Esperanza firefighters killed in a wildfire last year.

“A poster of hands cannot heal a parent who lost their child in war,” Pantele said. “But I’m trying to do my little thing to help people in whatever way I can. We don’t ask people, we just ship them a tube with the print inside. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been involved in. If just one family is blown away by this action, then it’s well worth it.”

Both men continue expanding their original plans for giving the prints away and are now including victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Asian Tsunami to name a few.

A pile of 200 tubes rested on a nearby chair that read “VT” on the top. These prints will be sent to families of Virginia Tech shooting victims and school administrators. The prints are dated April 16, when the tragedy occurred.

“I’m also sending one to the Cho family, whose son committed the crime,” Pantele said. “They suffered as much as everyone else throughout this ordeal and I can’t imagine what they went through. If I could not send one to the Cho’s, too, I wouldn’t send any to Virginia. Once they get there, I’m sure the painting will end up in dorms and hallways at the school for years to come.”

Pantele said he pays for the shipping costs himself and does not mind the added trips to the post office. He said he enjoys receiving letters from families who were comforted by the lithograph and frequent voice messages people leave on the gallery’s system. One recent local soldier’s death touched Pantele so much, he said he would be hand delivering the “Reach” lithograph to the funeral home instead of mailing it like the others.

Army Pfc. William A. Farrar is the third and most recent valley resident to be killed in Iraq May 11 when a homemade explosive device blew up near his vehicle as he was driving through the desert of Al Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad. He died just two months after his 20th birthday. The 2005 Palm Springs High School graduate’s funeral was held Friday.

Pantele said no military personnel of family member who survived a direct loss will leave his gallery without a free signed print. A copy of “Reach” also graces the walls of the air base in Twentynine Palms as well as local hospital emergency rooms.

Finney’s career spans more than 50 years and he describes himself as “self taught.” He moved to Palm Springs 10 years ago from the Los Angeles area and he’s been drawing his entire life. He has painted several hundred original works of art, many of which are displayed in the gallery blocks from his home. He said he tries to paint every day in his home studio for eight to 10 hours.

“I always have a long list of new things to paint,” said Finney. “It’s not really what to paint, but when. My art has substance, a lot of artists paint nowadays for the money. But that’s not what it’s all about.”

Finney said “Reach” holds special meaning to him, even if everyone sees different things when they view it.

“This one touches people who aren’t normally art lovers,” he said grinning ear to ear. “When I was painting it, I realized everything that has happened in my life is because I reached out and got it myself. We all have the capacity to reach our full potential but we don’t utilize it.”

Art lovers and collectors nationwide can watch the progression of Finney’s current 6 x 7 ft. painting of the Madonna and Child online at

Artist Vernon Finney, 83, stands next to his painting “Reach” at gallery on Thursday in Palm Springs. Finney and gallery owner Rick Pantele have given away signed lithograph copies of “Reach” to thousands of victims worldwide from tragedies such as Sept. 11, the Esperanza fire, and Hurricane Katrina.

See for yourself

To view Palm Spring’s artist Vernon Finney’s original painting “Reach” visit the Incredible Artist gallery at 333 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 101A
Information: 325-5917