Actually, It Is Rocket Science: 100 Years of Wernher Von Braun

Throughout my artistic wanderings, I have often found inspiration in my hometown. Huntsville, AL, "The Rocket City", has played a role in the style and substance of many of my works, just as it has left its imprint upon my life.  Huntsville's current main claims to fame are the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (home to Space Camp) and one of the leading science and technological research parks in the world.  A Saturn V rocket looms in the background of every drive across town, from behind the trees when I am on a friend's balcony, in the distance as I stroll at an outdoor mall. . . and one of my fondest childhood memories is of the face of the rocket man to whom Huntsville owes its nickname, Wernher Von Braun, gazing curiously from an oil painting that used to hang in the Symphony Hall and from a photo collage at the airport.  The idea of exploring the universe that sparks my imagination so greatly has no doubt been reinforced by the fact that Huntsville's identity is so starkly defined by the Space Race.  My father's own successful engineering career was made possible by some of the same forces that swept America during that time.  Dr. Von Braun and his team, I realize, were part of a complex and controversial history, but Von Braun's vision and contributions to spaceflight, not to mention to the quality of life in the Southern town that he called home, remain truly remarkable.  Many of the German volumes of philosophy, history, and literature that now sit upon my shelves belonged to these men and their families.  One of my professors turned out to be the son of one of Von Braun's team members.  At my very first job beyond the university, I found myself serving Konrad Dannenberg lentil soup and Black Forest cake on his birthday.  I am drawn to this history and my daily brushes with it.

2012 is the Centennial of Von Braun's birth and the above portrait is my tribute.  I spent quite a bit of time looking at pictures, wondering what Von Braun might have looked like in real life, attempting to learn exactly what color the Moon is (it is not, apparently, a flat gray), and trying to create just the right amount of detail on a rocket that, despite being in the distance, is over a foot tall on such a large canvas (30X40).  Since Von Braun did many concept sketches and encouraged art as a way to popularize scientific exploration, I wanted the colors and style of the piece to feel a bit like 60's illustrations.  Throughout the project, I found myself not merely layering paint, but researching planets and rockets and history, politics and ethics. . . exploring different worlds; it is not only fitting, but assures me that my recent foray into portraiture will continue to prove intriguing.

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