A scruffy 100-foot white wall at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport that nobody looked at twice, just a place to put baggage carts, has been transformed into a striking aviation art gallery.
The 78 paintings, hung with little room to spare in the airy, modern atrium of the international terminal, is the American Society of Aviation Artists' way of saying it has landed here this week for its 21st annual forum.
It's the first time the society has exhibited its aerospace artwork in an airport, and the first time BWI has mounted an extensive art show, airport officials said.
"The venue means we actually come to the public," society president Kristin Hill said.
BWI funded the lighting and security for the show, which continues through Sept. 7.
Among the clear-as-day images is an army of penguins on the Antarctica ice clustered outside a gray military C-141 airlift aircraft. The artist, Keith Ferris, a society founder, said the oil painting Inspection Party belongs to the Air Force art collection, along with 57 other documentary works he has created. Two others are on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
"There was 1,500 feet of water under us," Ferris, 78, said, recalling the mission which he went on as a team member about 20 years ago. "The ice is like a trampoline when you land. And then the penguins inspected us! If you only have one picture to paint, what are you going to take home? This was it."
At a reception earlier this week, the society's focus shifted to another kind of art as Sandra Campbell, an FAA manager in Kansas City, Mo., staged an original one-woman "re-enactment" of African-American biplane aviatrix Bessie Coleman.
Sporting a 1920s flying suit and goggles, Campbell went into her character and spoke in a Southern accent of the one-room schoolhouse where Coleman learned how to read and write. She hushed listeners as she told of how Coleman died at the age of 34 in 1926 in Florida. Amelia Earhart, her contemporary, was far better known when her plane was lost at sea.
"She bridged races in the Jim Crow era," Campbell said after her performance received raves. "Her life lesson is, sometimes we give up on our dreams too soon."
Artists then drifted in front of their work, comparing notes. In the most vivid human portrait, several said, Gil Cohen of Bucks County, Pa., celebrates a square-jawed World War II ace in his oil painting, "Fourth Mission of the Day."
Most of the artists' subjects were military, propeller driven, vintage or rescue aircraft, captured with expert precision. There were exceptions: images of the Hubble spacecraft in the heavens, a group of hot air balloons and a Federal Express mail plane landing in snow all made the cut. And not all images were realist.
Mark Cottman, a self-taught Baltimore artist, said his "Take Flight" colorful artwork is a tribute to the whimsy and joy of flight.
"It's unbelievable that much metal can defy gravity," Cottman, 48, said.
Another work, Norman Siegel's "Idlewild," is a nostalgic image of an airport observation desk back in the 1950s, when they were a place families came to watch take-offs and landings.
Hank Caruso of St. Mary's City said his "aerocatures," caricatures of various aircraft such as Coast Guard helicopters, were his form of storytelling. The aviation artists' society, which meets annually in different places, gives him a sense of belonging: "I never met so many people who thought the way I do before," he said.
A Londoner and a former auto designer, Charles Thompson, agreed the "camaraderie" was worth crossing the Atlantic for.
Paul Rendel of Milton, Del., is an experienced artist who will teach a drawing class to 13 school-age students today to open up their imagination toward skies and aircraft. His recently finished "Flying Fire Truck" shows a massive C-130 Hercules over a fiery orange field in a jagged mountain cut.
Like many fellow aviation artists, he has a strong streak of patriotism and donates his paintings to the Air Force.
"This is my service to my country," he said.