MADE IN NEVADA: Silver State 98

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RENO, NV (KOLO) - A local business is designed to capture and sell the essence of Nevada pride in the form of art.

Silver State 98 CEO and Founder Matthew Lewandowski making art.

Have you heard of Tahoe Tessie? Do you know one of the central items used to represent Sparks history? Do you love wild horses? There is artwork to represent all of these things and it's here because of a group of Reno High School graduates.

"The business started two years ago when three friends got together to plan our 20-year high school reunion, which would have been in 2018," said Silver State 98 Co-Founder Julie Begbie.

The three friends are from Reno High School's class of 1998. Matthew Lewandowski, Julie Begbie, and Jamie Gonzales needed money to pay for a deposit to secure space at the Whitney Peak Hotel.

Silver State 98 CEO and President Matthew Lewandowski recalls the breakthrough. "I came up with the idea of doing some Nevada artwork that we could possibly sell and it kind of took off within the first couple weeks and then just blew up from there. So it was pretty exciting."

"He created ten prints that were so unique and so different than anything that any of us have ever seen before. We knew we were onto something," said Julie.

"The success was pretty amazing. We were all kind of shocked with how the artwork just resonated with people all across the state," Matthew said.

A short time later, "Silver State 98" was launched in April of 2017. Silver State after Nevada and 98 to honor the High School Class of 1998 and its reunion.

The artwork is sold online and at special events like one held inside "West Elm" in December of 2018. It's located in the Old Post Office near the Truckee River in downtown Reno.

It doesn't take long for customers to stop and take notice. Jessica Ouellet says she's looking for a special gift to give her neighbor. "I love the prints how they're unique, but they're also kind of celebrating Nevada and Reno," she said.

Others like Nevada State Senator Melanie Scheible, who is a Reno High School graduate from the class of 2008, opened her Carson City office to our cameras to reveal the Silver State 98 artwork hanging on her walls.

"I'm the chair of the Natural Resources Committee in the Senate, so I really wanted to get something that captured some of Nevada's beauty and I think our wild horses are just incredible," said Sen. Scheible. D-Las Vegas.

This is one of 98 Nevada themed prints Silver State 98 sells.

"I wanted to do something where I could look at all the culture of Nevada. The history of Nevada. The colors of Nevada. The landscape and kind of interpret it in a new fun modern way," said Matthew.

He makes the prints with several techniques including screen printing, digital work, pen and ink, water colors, digital manipulation, and some abstract painting.

"The Rail City, the train would come through Sparks and if you see down by Victorian Square they have the original train down there that you can see so we just wanted to show case what Sparks is famous for," said Julie.

This art hangs outside the Mayor's office in Sparks.

"I'm proud of this piece of work here. Steve Driscoll commissioned it and we've had it for about a year now so it shows that Sparks is a viable entity," said Sparks Mayor Ron Smith.

Other art is more about myth and legend.

"Supposedly this gigantic monster lives in the depths of Tahoe and is only rarely seen, so we thought it would be fun to highlight Tahoe Tessie... take a guess at what she might look like," Julie said.

And what would northern Nevada be without wild horses?

"It's just a chance for us to show their beauty and also talk about how a lot of Nevadans feel sort of wild and free. So we can relate to those horses in that way," said Julie.

"Yes you can live anywhere and while everywhere is great, there is just something very unique and special about Nevada and celebrating not only love for each other, but also love for our great state," said Julie.

"I would love for people to authentically connect with it, something that they love about the state and incorporate that into the environment in their home," Matthew said.

The Reno High School Class of 1998 had a great reunion thanks in part to Silver State 98 art and now the art is taking on a life of its own, filling Nevada homes, inspiring pride, and creating a sense of belonging across the Silver State.

Matthew got his start in a Reno High School art class. His teacher, Lauren Gandolfo, retired last year. Matthew says she was a good influence in his life.

Matthew lives in Chicago where he designs home decor products for Crate & Barrel, but he says he'll likely return to northern Nevada because he says he likes the area.

You can buy Silver State 98 artwork at the Flag Store in Sparks, Lark Ellen on Plumb Lane, Home Means Nevada Company and Reno Envy.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2019