Monday, November 08, 2010

Art and the U.S. Air Force

An article in the June 1955 issue of American Artist magazine documents an interesting collaboration that took place during the mid-century between the U.S. Air Force and the Society of Illustrators...


Groups of artists associated with the S.I. were invited to visit various Air Force bases around the world and create a pictorial documentation of what they saw and experienced. One of those who participated and was most prominently featured in the AA article was Alex Ross.

Not only did the editors of American Artist chose one of his paintings for the privilege of being the only image reproduced in colour...


... but he was further featured with an extensive presentation of his sketches and rough drawings for another painting he did on this trip.


I'm a huge fan of Alex Ross' work. Below, I've provided close-ups of all the images from that particular spread so that you can get a better look at these marvelous sensitive drawings and painting sketches.







Now here's were things get really interesting:

Fast forward five years - to 1960 - and National Geographic does an extensive story on the S.I./ U.S. Air Force trips. The article features 24 illustrations by various artists in full colour. The painting chosen to open the article... Alex Ross' piece from the American Artist spread, five years earlier.


All of that would be interesting enough - but wait - there's more... the images we'll be looking at this week from that May 1960 issue of National Geographic come from an unlikely source: my 12 year old nephew, Will.

One day last year in Will's Grade 6 English class, the teacher brought out stacks of magazines for a 'cut-and-paste' project. Among all the magazines presented for scissoring were some that Will noticed looked pretty old... the sort of magazines he knew his uncle Leif enjoyed looking through. With the permission of his teacher Will rescued those magazines from the knife. The following Sunday, at our regular family dinner, young Will brought me a gift. Its from one of those issues rescued by Will that I scanned the image above and its thanks to Will that we will be able to enjoy the remaining 23 images, painted more than half a century ago by the likes of Robert Fawcett, Stan Galli, John Pike, James Bama, Louis Glanzman and many others.

Its with genuine gratitude and tremendous affection that I say thanks to my thoughtful young nephew, Will!


  1. You taught him well, Unc Leif...

  2. Can't wait! The Air Force Art program is very alive and well, with new generations and missions ongoing...

  3. Wow, really? Thanks for the heads-up on that Melanie. And talk about timely - readers should visit Melanie's blog right now - the top post shows some gorgeous sketches done by Melanie on her own Air Force adventure:

  4. What a great story and very cool that you're nephew saved those magazines for you. Talk about a simple twist of fate!

    I think you can find info on the Air Force Art Program on the SI West coast website. I know that Victor Juhasz has posted about his experience there.

    Here's a link:

  5. Leif, your friend and mine, Murray Tinkelman, has had the grand tour of the air force collection of originals, up close and personal. His description is quite amazing.

  6. Great story, smart kid:)

  7. Such an ugly airplane - so beautifully depicted.

  8. Leif, thanks for the articles on the Air Force Art Program. There are some really incredible pieces created every two years. I am the west coast chairperson for the program through the Society of Illustrators/Los Angeles and a member of the Air Force Art Program since 1978.

    Anyone interested in participating, I am the one to call. Just have to be a member of don't have to live on the west coast to participate. After thirty years in SoCal, I returned to the bayou, but I am still a member.

    Totally enjoy your blog site and the great tributes you've done on American Illustration.