Artist Robert McCall’s Airport Legacy

Arizona recently lost esteemed artist, Robert T. McCall of Paradise Valley, Arizona. He passed away in late February 2010. McCall’s artistic vision contributed to how a generation views aviation history and the air and space industry. McCall, who is often referred to as “the NASA Artist” (National Air and Space Administration), has over the years exhibited his artwork at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to the delight of the traveling public. Several major artworks are part of the Phoenix Airport Museum collection and provide a legacy for those visiting PHX Sky Harbor to enjoy.

McCall has partnered many times with PHX Sky Harbor. He was first commissioned to commemorate the opening of Terminal 4 in 1991 with a reproduction print of a painting that he created specifically for the event. Over the last 20 years, the PHX Airport Museum has hosted two one-man exhibitions of McCall’s work as well as shown individual pieces in group exhibitions.

In December 2007, McCall unveiled five large commissioned paintings as part of the dedication ceremony for the SPAD XIII World War I era airplane, Sky Harbor’s Terminal 3 exhibition. These works were purchased with Phoenix Aviation Department percent-for-arts funds through the Phoenix Office of Cultural Affairs.

Paintings by McCall (pictured above right) commemorated Arizona aviation notables, including: Frank Luke Jr. (World War I); Vernon Haywood, a member of the 99th Pursuit Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps also known as the Tuskegee Airmen that destroyed more than 250 enemy aircraft (World War II); Ruth Dailey Helm who flew fighter planes and B-25 bombers for the Women Air Force Service Pilots (World War II); Arthur Van Haren Jr., who served in the U.S. Navy with Fighting Squadron 2 as a fighter-pilot during World War II; and Frederick E. Ferguson, who during the Vietnam War flew his Bell UH-1 helicopter picking up wounded soldiers in the village of Hue, earning him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Those images are pictured above in rotation.

Another McCall treasure to be found at the Airport isn’t a painting at all but a stained glass window. Designed in 1996 by McCall with assistance in color selections from his artist-wife, Louise, it serves as a spiritual welcome to people who visit the chapel. “It is one of McCall’s most viewed works because it is at the Airport and close to the Terminal 4 B-Checkpoint,” said Airport Chaplain, Rev. Al Young. See images of the window pictured above in the rotation.

The window was funded by a grant from the Solheim Foundation, which was founded by Karsten Solheim, the creator of the Ping golf club. “Robert told me that stained glass was not his primary medium so this window is one of only a few he designed,” Rev. Young said. “Other local windows of his design are in the chapel at the Valley Presbyterian Church in Paradise Valley.”

McCall had a life-long passion for art, space, and flight. “Bob wanted to be an artist from the age of eight years old, he painted every day of his professional life right till the end, as a dreamer and optimist his imagination had no boundaries”, says Lennée Eller, Phoenix Airport Museum Program Manager. “Working together Bob and Louise created architectural stain glass pieces that are landmarks in our community. It has been a delight to work with them over years.”

McCall, who has also been called a visual historian, has played a vital role in documenting the United States Space Program for more than 50 years, as well as worked as a conceptual artist for such films as 2001 :A Space Odyssey, the Star Trek movies, and The Black Hole. Commission by the U.S. Post Office, McCall designed 23 postage stamps depicting the space program, his smallest work today.

Interested in seeing artwork by McCall? His works are on display at the National Air and Space Museum, the Pentagon, the Air Force Academy, the Smithsonian, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and of course, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

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