Tribute to My Father-in Law, Denton Lund

My wife Denise and I got word today that Denton Lund, artist, father, grandfather, US Navy Veteran, and my Father-in Law, passed away peacefully early this morning in Sturgis, South Dakota

Denton grew up in New Jersey, and from an early age his artistic abilities were notable. He put his artistic dreams as a young man on hold to serve his country in the United States Navy, but shortly after his tour of duty was complete he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in New York City and received a Bachelor of Arts from the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. It was there that he met his first wife, Jo, also an artist, and they had a son named Karl and a daughter named Denise (who I am lucky to be married to). Denton raised his young family in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, in a house partly of his own design tucked into the woods. During his years in New Jersey, he began developing his own style of painting, as well as creating logos, artwork, and marketing materials for a number of companies including Nabisco, Mercedes Benz, Harley-Davidson, and M&M Mars. One fact that has been known only to those of us who know Denton, is that he is the creator of the modern M&M’s characters. Denton was paid around $2000 in the early 1970’s by M&M Mars to modernize their ad campaign and come up with new character designs which he did, creating the M&M’s characters that we all know and love today. Denton was an extremely modest, unassuming person who never bragged of his accomplishments and rarely talked about his work for M&M Mars. He never structured his consulting work for M&M Mars to receive even a penny of royalties beyond his original consulting fee. However, one could make the case that the funny, colorful little characters are his living legacy to highly effective, artistic marketing.

As his artistic style and vision developed, Denton slowly migrated away from designing artwork for commercial ads and began his transition into becoming a highly sought-after fine artist. As he began to spend more and more time on his fine art creations, Denton became increasingly frustrated with commercially available media on which to create his works of art. His technique employs the use of rich, earthy tones and vivid colors, and in his early years the available canvases did not convey his colorful vision to his satisfaction. So, he set about creating and perfecting his own proprietary technique for developing “canvases” on which to paint. Through years of experimentation and tinkering with different basic materials and adhesives, he developed his proprietary process of creating multi-layered media that portrayed his painting technique beautifully and to his own exacting, perfectionist satisfaction. As he once explained to me (I am forever the “give me full info/how-do-you-do-that geek”, so I actually had him explain his process to me many years ago when we first met) he found that the way he mixed his paints did not produce the final effect on conventional canvas or other available media that he was after. So, after much trial and error, he mastered a process of painting on several layers of a very thin, silk-like material, then bonding them one at a time on top of each other, painting on each new layer as it was stretched and applied to the layer underneath it. Through this unique process, the colors from each layer soaked into the overlaid layers, giving Denton’s paintings a depth of color and luminance that is completely unique and very appealing to the eye. This unique, luminescent quality of Denton’s paintings can only be appreciated by viewing one of his originals in-person, but if one has the privilege to do so, one can then appreciate what Denton’s multilayer technique has added to the art world. Perhaps there are others who have experimented similarly to create their own media- I am unaware. But to go to such lengths to finally arrive at one’s personal vision, to me, speaks of entrepreneurial, artistic, creative genius.

As Denton began to mature as a fine artist, his desire to be part of an artistic community grew. He found himself inspired by the rich colors and the native people of the desert Southwest, so in the late 1970’s he moved his family and his studio from the woods of northern New Jersey to Albuquerque, and later, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. There, he made frequent trips around the area to photograph people from native tribes. From these sojourns, he gained inspiration from the rich and mystical cultures that he encountered there. I remember him telling me once that his trips to Taos Pueblo to visit with the people there were particularly inspiring and enriching for him. He took his many experiences from around the region and melded them into his artwork, focusing on Native Americans, and the diverse flora and fauna of the desert Southwest. His rich, multilayered paintings convey and combine realistic and mystical elements in every one of his wonderful works of art.

After a successful and fruitful couple of decades in Rio Rancho, Denton decided to move his studio to Wyoming. Karl and Denise were now out on their own, and he and Jo had divorced. He moved to Newcastle, Wyoming with his new wife, Sandy, who he met through artist circles while in Albuquerque. Once established in Newcastle, Denton and Sandy set up a new hilltop studio on the edge of town where Denton would continue his prolific painting, with Sandy managing their website as well as sales of his prints and original works. He led a happy, quiet lifestyle there for many years in a beautiful, spiritually-rich area close to the Black Hills, just a short drive from Mount Rushmore. Sadly, Denton would later suffer a stroke that temporarily left one whole side of his body very weak, and took away his voice. He regained the use of his limbs, but speaking continued to be difficult for him for the remainder of his life. Fortunately, through it all he maintained his prolific painting abilities. He was never more happy than when he was in his studio creating his beautiful works. Denton was also was quite the dog lover, and he and Sandy raised several furry friends together during their years in Newcastle. To anyone who visited, it was clear that Denton had finally found his happy place in Newcastle with Sandy and their dogs. Although never a devoutly religious man, Denton was always thinking of others and putting others first as we are taught to do by those who remind us every Sunday how to behave while on this earth. Even when I last visited him a couple of years ago, he could not say much. But when he did talk, he always looked into your eyes and said, “thank-you” as clear as day! Denton’s favorite thing to say was, “Just be good to people”, and he was just that to his final days.

On a more personal level, one of my most-treasured, earliest memories of Denton was from our first meeting in Rio Rancho when Denise and I flew out to stay with him in the summer of 1991. He suggested that the two of us visit one of his favorite local hangouts to talk. As we enjoyed cold beers together outside in the midday New Mexico heat, I somehow mustered up the courage to ask him if I could marry his daughter. I got lucky when he said, “yes”, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Through the years that Denise and I have been married and have built our businesses, our families have been very supportive. Jo served as nanny to our son, Kendall, for the first year of his life, during which we somehow lived in a 72-foot trailer home with two Labradors and a new baby while we toiled in the mud to construct our fledgling winery and plant our first vines. My parents have visited many times over the years and provided moral, and often hard labor support to build our winery from the ground up. And through all of this, even though Denton never got to see our winery in-person, he was very proud to offer his artwork to be featured on our labels (he especially loved enjoying Sweet Riverbend Red wine!). I have always been grateful to my father-in-law for letting us feature his artwork- thanks again, Denton! Through the years, our customers have always remarked about how unique and beautiful our labels are because of Denton’s artwork, and we will forever be grateful for his generosity in sharing his work with all of us. His story truly is integral to our own. We feature several of Denton’s original works in our tasting room at the vineyard for our visitors to appreciate, so please stop by and see, first-hand, the beautiful, deeply spiritual works that Denton has left for all of us to enjoy. Though Denton has now moved on to his new studio, we will keep him in the front of our hearts and his beautiful creations in front of our eyes for the rest of our time here!

With Love,

Chris Nelson

Owner, Winemaker and Distiller

Chrisman Mill Vineyards and Winery

Hummingbird Ridge Distillery

Forever Grateful Son-in-Law

Visit Us

We will be reopening on Saturday July 11th serving food and drinks from 11am-7pm.


2385 Chrisman Mill Rd.

Nicholasville, KY 40356

Phone: 859.264.9463 (please leave a message and we will return your call)

or text us at 859-333-5206