One of my first major projects as a young exhibition designer at the National Air and Space Museum was planning a one-man show for the Museum’s Flight and the Arts gallery, called simply “The Art of Robert McCall.” The Museum owned several McCalls, in addition to the great mural in the lobby, but we needed a few more to fill Flight and the Arts. So, in the summer of 1984 I flew to Scottsdale, Arizona, where I was welcomed into the McCall home by Bob’s lovely wife Louise.
Bob was out of town that week, but Louise, also an artist, assured me that he trusted us to select the right works from the many available. It was an honor to have access to Bob’s studio and difficult to remain focused on the task at hand—measuring and photographing works for the show—with so many distractions: works in progress that revealed his careful meticulous process, finished artwork stacked against the wall, and objects collected as models and inspiration for his space paintings.
When our work was finally done in Bob’s studio, Louise showed me her own beautiful watercolors of bright flowers and sun-drenched still-lifes. “Bob paints space, and I paint Earth,” she explained. We drove to see a stained glass window they had designed together for a chapel in Scottsdale. It was a perfect blend of their styles: an Earth- and space-scape, with her colorful flowers sprinkled across the bottom and his glowing stars in the heaven above. I basked in the glow of their great talent, their love for each other, and their commitment to their art, and I thought, what a remarkable couple they are.
Bob’s show ran from September 1984 to August 1985, and I saw Louise and him several more times throughout that year and off and on for decades during their frequent visits to the Museum. They always greeted me warmly, like an old friend. In my 30 years at the Museum, I have seen millions of visitors of every age and nationality pose to have their pictures taken in front of the huge astronaut figure in Bob McCall’s mural in the lobby. It makes me happy to think that his work is in photo albums around the globe, associated with fond vacation memories. I send my heartfelt condolences to Louise and the McCall family and thank them for my own fond memories of knowing Bob and Louise McCall.
Barbara Brennan is Chair of Exhibits Design at the National Air and Space Museum.