Maurice Turetsky saw his first image of Billy the Kid at 59.
Thus began an obsession that would consume the artist until his untimely death in February.
The Fort Sumner Historic Site is hosting “Becoming Billy,” featuring the paintings and sculptures of Turetsky, the first stop of a traveling exhibition sometime in late spring or early summer, said Patrick Moore, director of New Mexico Historic Sites.
Groomed to become a classical pianist, Turetsky was a contemporary Renaissance man: artist, inventor and designer, Moore said. He graduated from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art, where his mentor had been an assistant to the famed sculptor August Rodin. Turetsky worked as a designer for General Motors before creating dental castings at his own lab. He moved to Santa Fe in 1995, drawn to the blue skies and clear air as well as the state’s history of Billy the Kid.
Turetsky’s exhibition “The Principal Characters of the Lincoln County War” is the anchor exhibit in Fort Sumner’s Lincoln Gallery of Western Art. He portrayed 31 key and secondary players in the 1878 conflict.
It was while he was on vacation in Tombstone, Ariz., that Turetsky first spotted a postcard of Billy the Kid.
“He picked up this card and it had a huge effect on him,” Moore said. “He became fascinated by the history of Billy the Kid. He created images of all the characters in the Lincoln County Wars.”
His fascination was more than historical; it was personal. Turetksy’s son Josh was just 23 when he was hit by a car in Japan and killed. When he began drawing Billy the Kid, his daughter walked into his studio and said, “That’s Josh.”
Turetsky rendered images of the Kid’s famous tintype in pastels, bronze and steel cut-outs.
“Maurice Turetsky’s work has been very instructive in teaching the story of Billy and the Lincoln County Wars,” Moore said. “He was a wonderful, incredibly talented artist. He was real witty. He was a really dynamic individual. He was certainly a Renaissance man in his own life.”