STORY TELLER: Artists often choose which planes to paint because they have an interesting story

Artists are always looking for interesting subject matter and are often faced with the dilemma of deciding what to paint next. Do you ever wonder why an artist chooses a particular aircraft to paint?

Nixon Galloway was commissioned to do 43 paintings for United Airlines, depicting the aircraft used by the airline from its inception, ending with the Boeing 747. The airline reproduced the images for promotional purposes. Robert Watts did a series of paintings for American Airlines depicting many of the aircraft it has used.

Almost all of Robert Taylor’s paintings are commissioned by individuals or organizations wanting specific aircraft or incidents depicted. Keith Ferris, in his work for the U.S. Air Force, usually depicts aircraft he has flown in or seen in action. R.G. Smith did the same when he was working for Douglas.

Stan Stokes, Dave Paulley, James Dietz, and many other artists choose a particular aircraft because, being history buffs, they find that it has a unique story behind it. The story they are painting dictates the plane depicted.

Some artists have other reasons for depicting a specific aircraft. Raymond Paul Moats, for example, in his painting, “”Dies Irae”” Day of Judgment, chose the B-17G-80BO, 43-38263. Its pilot, Lt. Mowers, took the name for the plane, “”Dies Irae,”” from a score in Mozart’s “”The Requiem (D Minor)””, which in English translates to:

“”The day of wrath, that day which
will reduce the world to ashes
as foretold by David and the Sybil.

What terror there will be,
when the Lord will come
to rigorously judge all!””

Moats’ painting shows “”Dies Irae”” at 27,000 feet over Germany in the winter of 1944 as the flight makes its turn toward the target. The IP, as it was called, was always a prominent landmark a lead plane used to turn the flight on a heading to the target. This was usually the most nerve-racking part of the mission because the planes had to fly straight and level with no evasive action as the bombardier guided them to the target.

The artist’s certificate of authenticity includes an excerpt about this mission from the diary of Technical Sergeant John E. Kantorak, the flight engineer.

Kantorak describes their ninth combat mission, which was against Cologne on Oct. 17, 1944. He said they were tracked by German radar-controlled Ju-88s as they made their bomb run, and that the plane was hit several times by shrapnel. The number 3 engine and a fuel cell were hit. Also hit was a case of flares stored under the pilot’s seat. The flares ignited, spewing smoke and flames into the cockpit. Kantorak describes the heroic efforts to save the plane and themselves. By the time they got the fire out, the pilot’s heated suit was badly burned, as well as his chute harness, seat, and everything around him.

The front hatch was opened to let the smoke and heat out. Since they were at 30,000 feet, the windows were soon covered with a thick coating of frost. The co-pilot, who was Lt. Raymond H. Moats, the artist’s cousin, was flying the plane by looking out the open side window and narrowly missed two other B-17s that had been knocked out of the formation. And that wasn’t the end of their troubles.

The flight engineer’s description of that day’s events is more detailed than shared here, but as you can see, one reason Moats chose to paint this plane, which was part of the 34th Bomb Group, was because it had an interesting story to tell.

Moats, who expresses himself very well in writing as well as being a talented artist, includes, on his unusually informative certificate of authenticity, his personal search to understand World War II. As a youngster he remembers his father, uncles and cousin all serving in the military. His father was in the Battle of the Bulge. The artist’s comments are thought provoking and add much to this painting, because he shares with the print buyer what this painting really means to him.

Some artists paint a particular aircraft because they are commissioned to, others do it to honor someone they know. Still other aircraft are selected for personal reasons. Artists always have a good reason why they paint a particular aircraft.

Unless the specific aircraft you would like to see in print has reached an artist’s soul, it likely won’t be available. But ask anyway, because you may never know — the image you want just might be there.

I remember one customer who came in looking for a B-17 from the bomb group his father had flown in as a tail gunner. It so happened that the Military Gallery had just released a new B-17 print by Robert Taylor. I couldn’t believe it — not only was it from the right group, it was also the very plane his father had flown in, viewed from the left rear quarter, which clearly showed the tail gunner’s position. It couldn’t have been better. To top it off, my customer brought the plane’s pilot in the next week to sign the print before I framed it with some of his father’s memorabilia.

Larry W. Bledsoe is an avid aviation historian and writer. He can be contacted at 909-986-1103.

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