Countless people around the globe have discovered the secret: Ours is more than just artwork.
You may know the names of some of the people who have Valor Studios art in their collections. There’s Prince Charles, President Bush ’41, President Bush ’43, Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, Tom Hanks, Tom Brokaw, and even the Swedish rock band, “Sabaton.” But most of Valor’s prints and paintings hang in hallways, man-caves and over the fireplaces of everyday citizens who also celebrate our military heroes and those important two words: Never Forget.
Born from the stories of WWII veterans
When brothers Adam and Bryan Makos were growing up in rural Montoursville, Pennsylvania, they hung onto every word of their grandfathers’ war stories. One had been a Marine in WWII and the other, a B-17 radio operator. The elder gentlemen took the boys to air shows and museums, and an appreciation for history took root.
When the boys entered high school, they published a homemade magazine in 1999 with their best friend, Joe Gohrs. The magazine’s title? “Ghost Wings.” The name may have a silly ring, but their mission was ahead of their times: telling veterans’ stories. Adam Makos would one day become a New York Times bestselling author of the WWII classics A Higher Call, and Spearhead, but back then, he was still cutting and pasting their homemade magazine.
The boys soon ran into a publishing snag. They needed art to illustrate their articles, but most of what they found was old and outdated. Stale colors. Same old scenes. So they started commissioning paintings of their own. And people started asking for prints. That’s when a light bulb went off for the young team: what if their prints were hand-signed by the WWII heroes who were there? That’s how Valor Studios was born.
Our Patron Saint
The fledgling company soon found an unexpected “patron saint.” The TV series “Band of Brothers” burst on the scene, captivating audiences with the story of E-Company and its leader, Dick Winters, a warrior cut straight from a GI-Joe box. Overnight, Winter became the most famous living WWII veteran. Sacks of fan mail came pouring in, with everyone seeking the same thing: his autograph. But Winters was a private man, who shied from fame and didn’t sign autographs. Then he met the young men behind Valor Studios.
They brought him a painting they’d commissioned showing Winters and his troopers suiting up for D-Day. It was called “We Were a Band of Brothers.” Winters held it and became emotional. He saw something in those brushstrokes that no one else had noticed.
“This was the last time we were all together.”
To Dick Winters, that painting was more than just art. It was a memorial to his men. A historical treasure. Something that would live forever. And that’s why he did something unprecedented and made an exception to his rule. He agreed to sign a series of limited-edition prints for Valor Studios. More than two-hundred prints that first time. By hand. For Valor Studios and no one else.
Then Winters took things further. Notes. Phone calls. He reached out to the veterans of his company and made the “ask” for us: would they add their signatures alongside his? His indomitable sergeant, “Wild Bill” Guarnere, came forward. So did Buck Compton. So did the sharpshooter, Shifty Powers, and mortar man Don Malarkey. Even the mysterious Captain Ron Speirs signed for Valor Studios.
Our relationship with the Band of Brothers was unprecedented. Almost every living member of Easy Company was working with us. They signed the prints we made. They shared ideas for prints they wanted to see, so we made those, too.
We hit the road together. Air shows. Gun shows. We even sponsored a USO-style tour out of our own pockets, bringing the veterans to visit American troops in Germany. Later, we took them to Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, and even over Baghdad during a sandstorm.
More than just art
The Band of Brothers gave us more than we could ever give back, and we always wondered, “Why?” Their company medic, Al Maphre, explained it one day. He was holding one of our prints, taking in the autographs of his buddies who’d already passed, and said: “You know, looking at these signatures, it’s like you’re keeping these guys alive.”
That’s why they did it. That’s why President George H.W. Bush signed our prints. And General Hal Moore. And Captain Tom Hudner. And B-17 pilot Charlie Brown and his German brother from the other side, Franz Stigler, and hundreds of other heroes, both known and unknown. Because this is more than just artwork.
These days, Valor Studios is headquartered outside of Denver. Adam and Bryan are still behind every painting and print, Joe still helps with special events, and new faces have joined. The brothers’ father, Bob, came aboard. So did their sister, Erica, and their mother, Karen. Valor Studios remains a family business, an enterprise that understands the importance of giving back. We compensate every veteran we work with. We print, package, and ship in America. And we’ll never lose sight of why we go to work in the morning. It’s always been the same reason, the one that our friend, Al, described best.
It’s like you’re keeping these guys alive.