EAS Logo The Refractor

 

Bulletin of the Eastbay Astronomical Society
Founded in 1924 at Chabot Observatory, Oakland, California
Volume 77, Number 8, April 2001


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Space Art at the Dawn
of the Space Age:
The Art of Chesley Bonestell,
Fred Freeman, and Rolf Kemp
By David Rodrigues

Shortly after World War II, several events came together to make space travel seem a real possibility. The development of rockets, atomic power, large government projects, technological advancement due to the war, and economic growth made possible by the peace conjoined to make dreamers think seriously about space flight. In order to convince the general public, and decision makers in particular, that such dreams were on the edge of tangibility, space scientists such as Werner Von Braun, Willy Ley, and Fred Whipple wrote articles and books that used real science and engineering.

But hard-headed calculations were not enough. To captivate, inspire, and seduce, they employed a remarkable group of space artists: Chesley Bonestell, Fred Freeman and Rolf Klep.

Preeminent among these was Chesley Bonestell. Raised in the Bay Area, when he was ten he was inspired by a view of Saturn


"Reentry of Space Station into Earth's Atmosphere" (over the San Francisco Bay Area). Viewing the slide of this painting, you could see incredible detail in this image. Not only are the Bay's bridges at that time represented but even the car lights on the bridges! Even Lake Chabot is visible! Artwork copyright (c) Bonestell Space Art

through the 36 inch refractor at Lick Observatory (A good lesson for those of us who give views of the planets through Rachel to kids!). Trained as a professional artist, he then went on to "render" architectural drawings into pictures including skyscrapers in New York City, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the 1938 San Francisco Exposition. He then worked as a matte artist in films including "Citizen Kane" and George Pal's Destination Moon." His breathtaking views of the Earth from space, space ships under construction, astronauts exploring the Moon and Mars, and views of other planets from their moons are unforgettable! The San Francisco Bay Area is often a background for his portrayals of space ships orbiting the Earth.

These beautiful works of art inspired generations of astronauts, engineers, astronomers and just regular folks. They shaped and encouraged the development of the U.S. space program. Their remarkably prophetic visions of the future illuminate our understanding of the early history of space flight. Indeed, even as you read this article, events are happening overhead (the construction of a space station by a winged space plane) that have their roots in a series of articles in Colliers magazine authored by Werner Von Braun and illustrated by Chesley Bonestell.

In this program, I will show slides of many of these stunning works, point out and explain much of the incredible detail that might normally be missed, and discuss how they influenced the history of spaceflight. This program will give you much insight into these works, many of which may be exhibited in the near future at Chabot Space and Science Center.


Artwork copyright (c) Bonestell Space Art


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