Hess, Jaro

1889 – 1979
Jaro Hess was born in 1889 in a small Czechoslovakian village. At the age of 16, Hess joined the French Foreign Legion in Algiers for what he described as "the worst five years of my life," in a 1929 Grand Rapids Herald interview. He ended up escaping as a stowaway on a boat back to France. Hess went on to graduate from the University of Prague with a degree in metallurgy, a training that brought him to the U.S. in 1910.

Hess stayed briefly in Pittsburgh working at steel mills in the Midwest. He then turned to photo-etching, and then to horticulture when he moved to Bay City. His hybridization of delphiniums won him membership in the Royal Horticultural Society of London, and brought him an important contact by the name of Charles Greenway, then owner of the Booth newspaper chain. Hess began working for Greenway as a gardener and landscaper, and moved with Greenway to a home on Reeds Lake. A story on Hess in the Herald, rival of the Booth-owned Press; however, got Hess fired. Hess turned to designing rock gardens and did landscaping for homes on Reeds and Fisk Lake, including the Blodgett estate. When the Depression came, Hess made a living tying flies for trout fishing before joining an aircraft factory out east at the start of World War II. Back in Grand Rapids after the war, Hess painted dioramas for the Public Museum.

In 1950, he retired at age 61, to devote the rest of his years to painting. He died in 1979, at the age of 90. Hess is best known for his children's fantasy painting, often sold as a poster, "The Land of Make Believe," a work he created for the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. This work is not available for reproduction at this time, as the copyright was sold during the Depression.