Cleve’s triumph

Cleve painting

Artist R. Rashad Reed unveils his portrait of Cleve Heidelberg. (PHOTO BY CLARE HOWARD)

After 47 years in prison for a murder conviction that was vacated, Cleve Heidelberg lived just 306 days as a free man in Peoria before he died of heart failure, but his ultimate triumph remains his challenge to society to advocate for justice.

Peoria artist Ryan Rashad Reed has captured the triumph, joy, challenge and responsibility in a portrait of Heidelberg commissioned by attorney Andy Hale. The painting is hanging in the storefront window of Reed’s studio, Creativity Uncorked, 815 S.W. Adams St.

It’s a public art exhibit and a public challenge for Peoria. Heidelberg is still getting the last word.
Reed, who was born in 1979 nine years after Heidelberg’s trial, did extensive research for the portrait.

In speaking about Heidelberg, Reed said, “He sacrificed 47 years of his life. Sacrificed 47 years to the system. We can do better. We have to do better. Unfortunately, the story of Cleve is not an unfamiliar one in our society. Throw a rock, and it will land on a similar narrative taking place today.”

The artist blames an apathetic public for injustices that could and should be rectified.

“This is not a white issue or a black issue. This is due to apathy,” he said.

Reed paints portraits in both natural colors and stylized portraits in vibrant colors. The vibrant colors used in the Heidelberg portrait are a selection of “controlled spontaneity” that evokes a sense of joy and triumph, Reed said. There are also dark tones that reflect the somber sense of injustice and the burden of responsibility the Heidelberg story carries.

At an unveiling of the portrait in September, Hale said the painting will remain in Peoria for the public to view but ultimately will be moved to Chicago. He might commission another portrait that will remain in Peoria.

Clare Howard

Clare Howard is the editor of the Community Word. She can be reached at

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