Imagining Innovation: Aerospace Art

April 7 - June 12 2018 at the Brigham City Museum of Art & History

Employees of Thiokol Chemical Corporation, known today as Orbital ATK, in Promontory, Utah, had the solemn responsibility over the years to produce solid rocket boosters for space launch vehicles as well as other products. Thiokol hired skilled artists to depict in art its challenges and accomplishments. In the 1980s and 1990s, high-end prints of their paintings were used to promote the company’s products at trade shows.

An exhibit of Orbital ATK’s aviation art titled “Imagining Innovation: Aerospace Art” opens April 7 and continues through June 12 at the Brigham City Museum of Art. Work by Mark Waki and Allan Eaton, employees at the Promontory facility, will be on display. 

Image of artist Mark Waki in front of a paintingWaki was hired as a model builder and illustrator in 1982 and has become a space program artist of wide renown. He has completed 30 major paintings for the company. Waki’s artwork has been displayed with the U.S. Air Force Art Collection in New York, at the Pentagon in Virginia, The U.S. Air Force Museum Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio and the Paris Air Show in France. Waki and his brother Matthew painted a large mural for the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, and it’s on permanent display at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

The painting “T+30” by Waki that depicts a space shuttle 30 seconds into flight is widely thought to be the most reproduced space painting ever.

Waki remembers, “My childhood was filled with pencil drawings and scale models of flying machines of all types. Drawings of B-25s shooting down Zeros and models of Fokker DR-1s to Saturn Vs go back to my preschool years. I never considered art as a profession until I realized that I was not going to fly military aircraft due to poor vision. Paintings became my connection to the fighter pilot community, military aviation and spaceflight.”

One of Waki’s works hanging in the exhibit is “Killer Scouts.” It depicts the U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons making a morning attack on enemy targets during Operation Desert Storm. The artwork pays tribute to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing from Hill Air Force Base for participating in the liberation of Kuwait in February 1991.

Allan Eaton says that art, astronomy and space flight have been part of his life for as long as he can remember. He recalls, “I was a child of the 1960s, like most of my friends, and I had dreams of becoming an astronaut. I followed the space program with the same enthusiasm some kids followed rock stars. An accident when I was 14 dashed all hopes of ever becoming an astronaut as I was paralyzed from the waist down. I pursued art while still enthusiastically following the space program. The discoveries of the 1960s through the 1980s thrilled me and NASA was my rock star.”

After Eaton graduated from high school, he worked at the Hansen Planetarium, now the Clark Planetarium, in Salt Lake City. This fueled his desire to at least be part of the space program. Eaton furthered his education at Sevier Valley Technical College, graduating with an associate degree in commercial art. He began his career as a jewelry illustrator in Salt Lake City specializing in airbrush illustration and soon transitioned into technical illustration and drafting.  After working for a variety of engineering firms, Eaton became a freelance artist. Eventually he went to work for Thiokol where his artistic talents documented the Space Shuttle Program as well as other space and military projects. The artist states, “These experiences fulfilled a lifelong dream.”

Included in the exhibit is Eaton’s “Challenge Traditions,” a montage of significant transportation events throughout history. Utah’s connection is illustrated by a space shuttle rising above two trains facing each other when the ceremonial “golden spike” was driven at Promontory Summit connecting the first transcontinental railroad in 1869.

The history of Thiokol is as fascinating as spaceflight. In 1926, two chemists, Joseph C. Patrick and Nathan Mnookin, were trying to invent an inexpensive antifreeze. While experimenting with ethylene dichloride and sodium polysulfide, they created a gum that emitted a terrible odor and clogged a sink in the laboratory. None of their solvents could remove the gum. The frustrated chemists then realized that the resistance of the material to any kind of solvent was a useful property. They had invented a synthetic rubber, which they christened “Thiokol,” a combination of the Greek words for sulfur and glue.

Thiokol Corporation was formed in 1928 to commercialize the new product. The company’s future changed forever in 1945 when scientists discovered that the polymer made the best solid propellant fuel binder known to man. In 1947, Thiokol entered the solid rocket motor market.

This exhibition was supported, in part, by Orbital ATK.