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Alumni Artwork Featured in Disney's "The Lone Ranger"

Alumni Artwork Featured in Disney's "The Lone Ranger"

Alumni Artwork Featured in Disney's

Since The Lone Ranger debuted earlier this summer, Bill (‘75) and Kathy (Ellis ‘76) Brewer of Greenville, IL, have visited the theater twice to watch it on the big screen. Kathy said she liked the movie even better the second time, adding, “There’s a lot of humor in it that you might miss the first time.” Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films produced the movie, which stars Johnny Depp as Tonto.

When it is released on DVD, the Brewers will purchase the film. It’s likely they will watch it several more times. Remote in-hand, they will pause and rewind to study each scene carefully, searching for the costume pieces they created for the film.

The Brewers make replicas of historic Indian artifacts by hand for various clients ranging from television and film producers to museums. They also restore antique artifacts for private collectors and dealers.

They became involved with The Lone Ranger in November 2011, when a member of the production team approached them, the same team responsible for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and asked them to produce prototypes of several Indian artifacts. One month later, they received a purchase order with a long list of requested items, including a belt bag, knife case and knife, which Johnny Depp wore as the character Tonto. Kathy is quick to point out, though, that they were not responsible for the darkly fantastic bird headdress Depp wears on his head throughout the movie.

Over the years, the Brewers’ Greenville-based business has developed an excellent reputation in Hollywood’s motion picture industry for producing historically accurate and strikingly beautiful Indian replicas. In addition to The Lone Ranger (2013), their work has also appeared on-screen in Dances With Wolves (1990), Thunderheart (1992), Maverick (1994), Legends Of The Fall (1994), Last Of The Dogmen (1995), Indian In The Cupboard (1995), Almost Heroes (1998), The Patriot (2000), Dragonfly (2002), Hidalgo (2004), The Alamo (2004), Transformers (2007) and Transformers II (2009).

“It’s all word of mouth in Hollywood,” Kathy said. “It’s ‘don’t call us we’ll call you.’ If you do what costume designers want - even with the costumes that aren’t historically accurate, but are based on their own fanciful designs - if you can copy their pictures exactly and make their vision a reality, they remember that. We’ve had several prop and costume designers come to us time and time again with work.”

Both Bill and Kathy are graduates of the Greenville College Art Department. They married a week after Kathy graduated and remained in Greenville to launch careers in design. Kathy worked at Naco as an offset printer and Bill worked at an architecture firm called General Design Partnership, where he drew artistic renderings. In 1981, they quit their day jobs and formally launched Indian Images, naming their business after Bill’s senior art show.

Kathy recalls Bill’s work as a fellow art student at Greenville College. “Whether it was a painting, a drawing or a sculpture, his work always involved Indian subjects. Even when the work was very modern in style,” she said. “His professors didn’t seem to mind his focus. In fact, they often pointed to his work as examples.”

Bill’s fascination with Indian history and culture began as early as four years old. He and his brother, Bob Brewer ‘77, attended grade school in Pocahontas, IL, where several friends shared their interests. The brothers expanded their knowledge through the Boy Scouts program, hobbyist magazines and self-guided research. They eventually learned how to make costumes and artifacts. Bill’s expertise continued to develop throughout college. He and Kathy began attending the National Powwow, held every three years in various Midwest locations. They now specialize in the Plains Indians of the 1830-1890 time period.

Their company’s big break came in 1990 with what was supposed to be a small film, Dances with Wolves starring Kevin Costner. The film totally exceeded expectations and debuted as a box office hit, becoming one of the best-known films of the decade. The Brewers were contacted a month before shooting began to create several props. The production team was pleased with their work and requested more items from the Brewers. They spent an entire summer completing rush orders, making weapons, quiver and bow cases, shields, lances and clubs. They visited the production site in Rapid City, South Dakota, and toured behind-the-scenes.

The Brewers met Kevin Costner and took a photograph with him. Though he is one of the only stars they have met in person, they have received measurements to make items for other big name stars like Brad Pitt, Liam Neeson, Billy Bob Thornton and Pierce Brosnan.

In addition to film and television work, their items are on display in a number of museums and hands-on educational programs located across the country. Their major work included a traveling exhibit called “The Horse In Southwest Culture” for the San Antonio Museum Association (Witte Museum), which featured a Comanche model costume, weapons and horse gear. A permanent Indian Hall exhibit with a full size Sioux tipi and all furnishings is on display in the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, IL.

If you head to the movies this summer to watch The Lone Ranger, see if you can spot the Brewers’ work. The next opportunity to see their work on the big screen is the drama, The Homesman, due out in 2014. 

This story was published on July 26, 2013




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