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Gil Cohen  Oil  2013

I only very recently learned of the WASPs, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots of WWII.  Their story is amazing, heroic, dramatic, sometimes tragic, and most of all highly disappointing.  I hope that some of you that see this painting will read about them and tell others.  Their story is only disappointing because it is not widely known.  We need to change that.

In 1943, World War II was raging.  America needed pilots.  Many men were tied up in the States doing things like training and ferrying aircraft from factories to bases.  Enter the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD).  A year later they would combine to form the Women’s Airforce Service  Pilots, better known as WASPs.

As their names imply, these women pilots took over training and ferrying, freeing men for combat.  A call went out for experienced pilots.  25,000 women answered the call to serve their country.

1,074 women graduated from the WASP pilot training program where they learned to fly the “Army Way.”  These women flew every single aircraft the male pilots did, from bombers, to fighters, to transports.  They flew the same missions that men flew within the continental 48 from 126 different bases.

But they also were required to really go above and beyond in a lot of ways.  When an aircraft was damaged and it received repairs, it was the WASPs that took the planes up to test for safety before the male pilots could fly them.  Amazingly, even in these conditions they were instructed that under no circumstance should they touch the emergency equipment, even if in imminent danger.  That equipment was to be reserved for male combat pilots in battle.

One of the most amazingly heroic missions they flew were training missions.  They would fly planes with targets attached to the tail of their planes for the male students.  The students were firing LIVE ammunition at the targets.

In August of 1944, the US Congress rejected the WASP Militarization Bill presented by General Hap Arnold.  It was widely believed at the time that with the draw down of pilots, many of the male civilian pilots would lose their jobs to their female counterparts if they were given official military status.  To some extent, this would have been true as many of the WASPs were more experienced and were flatly just better pilots.

However, the politics and sexism had even great consequences.  The WASPs did not receive military benefits or honors.  Thirty eight woman died in service of their country.  Their classmates and friends had to pool their money and take a collection to send their bodies home.  They were not allowed to have a flag placed on their caskets.  They were not allowed to be buried as veterans.

In December of 1944 the WASP program was unceremoniously ended, less than two weeks after the last class graduated from flight school.  The women, stationed all across the country, were just told to go.  They even had to pay for their trips home.

The WASP files were sealed and classified.  For 35 years they were not acknowledged in any way.  They did not receive VA benefits.  They were largely forgotten.

In 1976, the military officially began accepting females into their academies.  It wasn’t until this time that the WASPs began to stir.  The media attention to the “first women” in the military prompted them to organize.

Colonel Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold,  became a strong ally to the WASPs in the 1970s to help get them the recognition they deserved.  Largely due to their own organization, as well as help from Barry Goldwater, President Carter officially recognized the WASPs as veterans and awarded them VA benefits.  In 2010 the surviving 300 members were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Gil Cohen is known as an aviation artist from Bucks County, PA.  He has numerous works depicting World War II, many of which include women in different capacities.  Many of his works are available in giclee from Aviation Art.

The artist gives this background for the painting:  “During the late Autumn of 1944 on the tarmac of the Lockheed Aircraft Plant in Burbank, California, a group of four Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) are gathered around their flight leader.”  Read a bit more about it here: Brooks Art.

I love the look of the panels of the planes in this painting.  They show the wear and tear of planes used in war.  The light shining in spots on the floor gives an accurate representation of light shining through the  netting above them.

The women look like pilots, just like they should.  These were not just women dressed up like pilots.  I can’t help but think the one kneeling on the right has a Peggy Carter look about her.

If you would like to email a real WASP, here is a link for you to do that.  Email a WASP  What a great way to learn!  There is a PBS documentary you can watch with great information.  You can see the trailer here:  We Served Too

It wasn’t just the WASPs!  Please also learn about the WAC–Women’s Army Corps, the WAVES–Women Accepted for Emergency Volunteer Services in the Navy, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserves, the SPARS–the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, and of course, the Army and Navy Nurses Corp, including the Angels of Bataan.  Women have been a part of our military history since the Revolutionary War.  It’s time we acknowledge them.


Queen Victoria

Franz Xaver Winterhalter  Oil  1843

Today we celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was born this day in 1819.  Sorry to the folks in Canada and Scotland that celebrated on Monday as a bank holiday.  I guess you’ll all be at work today and can’t read this anyway.

Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India was born fifth in line to the crown.  Just months before her 18th birthday, her uncle, King William IV, was the last man standing between her and the crown.  He swore to her he would stay alive until her 18th birthday so her mother (his sister-in-law) would not be regent.  He kept his promise, and died a month after her birthday.

However, even as a queen she needed a chaperone as she wasn’t married.  She wasn’t thrilled about her mother living with her.  Her mother’s overbearing “advisor” (most likely lover) was unwelcome and powerful, a dangerous combination.

The best remedy to an overbearing mother living with you is to get married.  Victoria’s beloved Uncle Leopold (her mother’s brother), King of Belgium, put forth his nephew Prince Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  Yep, that was her first cousin.

The Queen had always enjoyed his company and found him handsome and intelligent.  They were married in 1840 and had nine children and 32 grandchildren.  Theirs was a love affair of the ages.

The Victorian age is generally known for its extreme modesty.  This is mostly given to the fact that the Queen was raised in practical seclusion with intense rules set forth by her mother to avoid any scandal to ensure she would be queen.  That’s why this painting is so fascinating to me.

This oil painting was only recently unveiled at Buckingham Palace.  The Queen commissioned it herself as a gift to her husband, Albert.  It was painted in 1843 by renowned royal painter Franz Xaver  Winterhalter.

Winterhalter was the court painter of King Louis-Philippe of France, but painted portraits for several royal families around the world.  He was in demand all around the globe, including Russia and Mexico.   He painted over 120 portraits for the English royal family during Victoria’s reign.

Queen Victoria was 24 when she sat for this painting.  It reminds me a bit of those “boudoir” photos that have become popular recently.  It’s meant for her husband alone, and it shows a side of her only he should see.

It’s not so much the amount of skin shown, as the off the shoulder costume was quite popular, but other aspects that would have made it quite scandalous (at least to her mother).  The necklace rests on her chest, which draws your eyes down the pristine white skin.  Of course, she’s completely covered.  The hair seems almost carelessly tossed over one shoulder and lands near the necklace as well.

Her look is far off and wistful, longing.  She is not a queen in this portrait.  She is a young wife.

Queen Victoria reigned for over 63 1/2 years before her death at age 81.  Until this year when her great-great granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her, she was the longest reigning monarch in history.  She is most commonly known for her long mourning period after the death of her husband.  She continued to wear black from the time of his death in 1861 until her own death in 1901.  She was buried in white, by her own request.

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty.




Her Majesty the Queen

Lydia de Burgh  Oil Painting  1955

Happy 90th birthday, dear Queen!  I could spend days and days writing about Her Majesty, but instead I’ll just hit some highlights.

HRH Princess Elizabeth of York was being raised to be a royal princess, the niece of King Edward VIII.  It wasn’t until she was 10 years old that her future changed.  The King abdicated for the love of a woman (certainly worthy of a post of its own in the future.)  She would now become the daughter of the King and heir to the throne.

At just thirteen she met the man she would marry and never had eyes for anyone else.  He was the extremely handsome and downright dreamy navy man, Philip, Prince of Greece and Denmark.  Not a bad catch.  This wasn’t an arranged marriage and was discouraged by her father, the King.  Again, look out for a future post about their lives together.

At 18 years old, after much persuasion, her father allowed her to join the war effort.  She joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service with the rank of subaltern.  She was trained as a mechanic and ambulance driver during WWII.  To this day, she still loves to drive.  She is the only female member of the royal family to join the military in history.

In 1947 she wed her prince, who gave up his titles, his religion, and his navy career to become a naturalized British citizen and the Duke of Edinburgh.  She used her war rations to purchase her wedding dress.  The ingredients for her cake were donated by the Australian Girl Guides.  She would send a layer of her cake to Australia in appreciation.

Just a few years later at the young age of 25 she would ascend the throne after the death of her father.  Officially, her title was by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Queen, Defender of the Faith.  She was Queen not only of Great Britain, but also Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and numerous islands and smaller countries.  Throughout her reign she has been the Queen of many countries and territories, including Pakistan, Kenya, Jamaica, Malta, and many others.  Her reign is now the longest in British history.

Lydia de Burgh was the first resident Irish artist commissioned to paint Her Majesty the Queen in 1955.  She was a student of the masters, and I believe that shows in this portrait, which I love.  The coloring of her skin is lovely, and the detail in the fabrics and the wall are subtle but intricate.

The queen is young and pensive, but somehow strong and determined.  I think her face has a hint of sadness at the loss of her father while he was so young, and also the loss of the freedom she would have enjoyed as the niece of a king as opposed to a queen at 25.

You can send Her Majesty a birthday greeting here: https://www.royal.uk/messagetothequeen



The Greeting of the First Cosmonaut

Mykhaylo Khmelko  Oil on Canvas 1962

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel to space.  At just 27 years old, the Soviet Cosmonaut was launched from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in the Vostok I.  Although an accomplished pilot, the space capsule was designed to fly completely on automatic control or ground control due to the lack of information on how a human would react to weightlessness.  He was to switch to manual control only in case of emergency.

The journey to orbit the Earth one time was only 108 minutes long, but it launched Yuri Gagarin to superstardom.  The handsome pilot was immediately a hero and heartthrob to millions.  Tragically, the young pilot would die only a few years later at age 34 during a routine training mission.  He traveled to space only one time.

Mykhaylo Khmelko was a Kiev born oil painter known for his Socialist Realism paintings.  He’s sometimes criticized for “exploiting” Nationalist sentiment by painting large works depicting important moments in Soviet history and is often considered a “party painter” because of the number of official commissions he obtained, which eventually led to being awarded two Stalin Prizes.

I tend to just look at him as a historical or current events painter.  For the most part, he accurately portrays the events and depicts the feeling of the country at the time.  What I particularly like about this painting is the smile on Gagarin’s face and the sheer number of people in the crowd, all with excited expressions.

After the flight, many people around the world at the time felt a sense of disappointment.  Of course, some were disappointed the Russians had excelled in the space race and were concerned for the future.  Others, however, felt more disappointed in the reaction by the US and the West over the great accomplishment.  This was a time to celebrate humankind and the advancement of all people.  It could have been seen as a symbol to rally around, a step toward peace.  Unfortunately, it just added fuel to the Cold War fire.

Today, we remember Yuri Gagarin and all those men and woman of all nationalities who have helped our little planet reach beyond our atmosphere and into space.  History shows that it takes everyone working together to accomplish the great feat of space travel.  Just take a look at the INTERNATIONAL Space Station.  Happy Yuri Gagarin Day!

Clydesdale Team

Suzy Schaefer  Oil on Board  2012

I love Clydesdales, even though I have no great affinity for horses.  My love, of course, comes from the Budweiser Clydesdales.  Growing up in the St. Louis Metro East, I can’t imagine a kid NOT loving them.  Here they’re a symbol of so many things–the start of baseball season, a trip to Grant’s Farm, a brewery tour, regional representation during the Super Bowl (the only way we even have a chance of it now), strength and honor, community pride.

This is a great little oil painting by Suzy Schaefer, a contemporary California artist.  I’m not sure if she has any connection with the area or the Anheuser-Busch traditions, but she certainly nails the look in this painting of a team of Clydesdales pulling the red Budweiser beer wagon.  The handlers are wearing their traditional green suits and Clyde sits beside them.

There’s nice movement in this work as well.  The distinctive feathering on their lower legs and fetlocks seem to blow in the draft of their trot.  Their heads tilt as in concentration.  Even the abstract trees in the background give a sense of a gentle breeze.

Happy Home Opener, Cardinal Nation!



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