California state treasurer visits Portrait of a Warrior Gallery in Bakersfield's downtown

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California state Treasurer Fiona Ma was in downtown Bakersfield on Tuesday afternoon to do something she's been wanting to experience for some time.

It wasn't the chicken piccata at Uricchio's, or the peanut butter chews at Dewar's.

On the recommendation of a friend, Ma and her staff set up a tour of Portrait of a Warrior Gallery at 1925 Eye St., just south of 20th Street.

Jason Geis, co-founder of the gallery, led the tour for the elected official, which included the heart of the exhibit: 27 portraits of 27 post-9/11 U.S. servicemen, all with a Kern County connection and all who died as a result of wounds suffered on the battlefield.

"You can see in the vignettes the artist ... works with the families," Geis told the state treasurer. "The families determine what they want you to see about their son — other than the fact that they served our country and were killed in action.

"They want you to know that they had siblings and they had a wife and they had children and other things that were important in their life."

Ma was clearly impressed and moved by what she was seeing and hearing.

Geis was familiar with the names of every one of the 27, and he seemed to know many other details as well.

He pointed out a portrait of Brian "Cody" Prosser, who was 28 when he became one of the first U.S. servicemen killed in Afghanistan, less than three months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

As Ma was led through the gallery, she found a tribute to Vietnam fallen, and a memorial dedicated to returning veterans who have died at their own hands.

These deaths, staggering in number, are a continuing tragedy that can and must be prevented, Geis said.


Ma spoke briefly with reporters. She called the gallery “amazing,” and said it is “a great tribute” to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and to all those who served.

Before she was first elected treasurer in 2018, Ma served in the California Assembly with Bakersfield native and former Assemblywoman Nicole Parra. It was Parra, she said, who recommended the local gallery.

"She said, 'Next time you come, you need to come to the gallery,'" Ma said. "So today's trip is really around the gallery."

Opened in 2018, the gallery was a labor of love built entirely from donated funds, materials and sweat.

The idea for the gallery was first born in Texas several years ago when artist Ken Pridgeon was asked to paint a portrait of a fallen soldier. Then another family asked. And another.

To date, he's painted hundreds of portraits, and was instrumental in developing the first Portrait of a Warrior Gallery.

Bakersfield is the second.

"I always support those who have served and died for our country," Ma said of military veterans.

"We'd really love to see these places duplicated," she said of the portrait galleries.

"It really does come down to the founders and their passion."