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Nine paintings depicting the evolution of air and space, which are displayed in the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station technical support building lobby, will be adopted into the Air Force Art Program this year. The paintings were rescued years ago after being abandoned inside a storage closet at the Chidlaw Building, the then-headquarters building for the Aerospace Defense Command of the North American Air Defense Command.
“The big significance is that we capture some heritage, so that it doesn’t get lost,” said Col. Russell Wilson, tjhe 721st Mission Support Group commander at CMAFS.
For years, the paintings have been a source of conversation and mystery, Colonel Wilson said. The only clue about the paintings’ origins is the signature, “T. Patterson.” Beyond that, the paintings are not dated and no one knows who T. Patterson was.
“We still ask the question, where did these paintings come from?” he said.
Art Marthaller, a retired chief master sergeant and retired Department of Defense civilian, found the discarded paintings in the mid 1980s in the Chidlaw Building. The paintings were covered in dust, but he liked them, he said. Chief Marthaller asked around and no one objected, so he took them up to the mountain and put them up in the conference room.
The paintings run as a series that begin with Greek mythology and the depiction of Icarus, the Greek man who made wings of feathers and wax to escape Crete. However, he flew too close to the sun and melted his wings causing his crash to earth.
Each painting has a number of faces or images that represent different eras of flight history. The paintings depict the first manned balloon flight in France by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783 and the first successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers in 1903.
T. Patterson also paid homage to World War I German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the Red Barron, and in a separate painting to Valentina Terskova, a Soviet cosmonaut who in 1963 became the first woman in space.
The paintings also treat viewers to the Flying Tiger, the P-38 Lightning, the Supermarine Spitfire and the CH-47 Chinook, which spans 1941 to the early 1960s in three paintings. The artist also paints the Apollo 11 moon landing of 1969 and then the more modern F-15 Eagle tactical fighters and the all-weather surveillance E-3 Sentry, which would indicate the paintings were done after 1977, when those aircraft were introduced.
“As you look at them, they really show the transition of air power,” Colonel Wilson said. “There are a lot of famous people in the paintings — it’s fun, a lot of folks will stop here and try to figure out who they are.”
The paintings have been examined by the 21st Space Wing and Air Force Space Command historians, but neither had ever seen the paintings or knew anything about the artist, Colonel Wilson said.
“I heard comments and rumors that the painter was a Vietnam veteran doing some art therapy,” said Jim Burghardt, 721st MSG test control operations chief. “I would like to know who he is.”