Popular Artist Had Extensive Ties to UA

Robert McCall, whose work popularized space exploration for genrations of artists and astronomers, left a substantial part of his work to the UA Museum of Art.
March 2, 2010
Extra Info: 

A memorial service for Robert McCall will be held on Saturday, March 20, at 2 p.m. at Valley Presbyterian Church, 6947 E. McDonald Drive in Paradise Valley.

Viking Lander
Viking Lander
McCall Mural
McCall Mural

Internationally noted artist Robert McCall died last Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. The 90-year-old artist and Paradise Valley resident whose works are included in the University of Arizona Museum of Art, won decades of acclaim for his depiction of space and human space travel.

As much as anyone outside the scientific community, McCall popularized the U.S. space program with his fanciful, and often prescient, scenes of astronauts, their spacecrafts and operations on other worlds beyond Earth.

His works include a six-story high mural covering a wall at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and the poster for the Oscar-winning 1968 Stanley Kubrick film, "2001: A Space Odyssey."

UAMA currently holds more than 200 of McCall's artwork, a sample of which were on exhibit for several months in 2008, coinciding with the UA-led NASA Phoenix Mars Mission.

Peter Wehinger, a staff astronomer and development officer at the UA Steward Observatory, said McCall followed in the footsteps of Chesley Bonestell, the artist whose work during the early and middle 20th century inspired science fiction and fueled public interest in space exploration.

Wehinger, a longtime friend of McCall and his wife, Louise, said McCall was a founding member of the astronomy board at Steward and helped fund a number of financially struggling students through the UA.

"About five or six years ago, he began to think about his work and we had many discussions about how and where they might go," Wehinger said. UAMA Director Charles Guerin, he said, gave McCall a warm and enthusiastic reception.

After several meetings at McCall's Paradise Valley studio they worked out an agreement to transfer the bulk of his work to UAMA. That included not only his paintings, but sketches, slides and even designs for the patches that NASA astronauts wore on their missions in space.

Guerin described McCall as a visionary as well as an exceptionally gifted artist.

"Bob was America's preeminent illustrator of the history of aviation, the NASA program and space flight in general. He had entree to some of the most remarkable aspects of American aviation history, including landing man on the Moon and the launch of the space shuttle. 

"Much of his work was his interpretation of where we were going as a people. I don't even like to refer to it as science fiction. Bob saw the world in terms of what it would be and could be. He was an extraordinary individual."

Guerin said McCall's archives are a gift that "will allow young students to study his creative efforts, his remarkable artistic career."

McCall also spearheaded the creation of the Archive of Visual Arts at the museum. The Robert T. and Louise H. McCall Gallery at UAMA was named for the artist and his wife.

"He was the guy who would never stop working," said Wehinger. "When I visited him six months ago he had just completed a portrait of (Apollo 11 commander) Neil Armstrong for NASA and was starting on a painting for the U.S. Navy SEALS headquarters in Virginia."

"He had a marvelous way of describing things scientifically and looking to what might be next, and that takes a special talent in addition to making brush strokes of a painting," he said.