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Dusty paintings make Air Force history

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo.  The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

A painting by an unknown artist, T. Patterson , which is now on display at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The art was adopted into the Air Force Art Program in 2011. (Courtesy photo)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. -- Nine paintings depicting the evolution of air and space, which are displayed in the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station technical support building's lobby, will be adopted into the Air Force Art Program this year.

The paintings were rescued years ago from their abandonment inside a storage closet at the Chidlaw Building, which was the headquarters for the Aerospace Defense Command of the North American Air Defense Command from 1963 to 1986 in downtown Colorado Springs.

Since their rescue, the 3-by-4 foot paintings have been displayed in various CMAFS conference rooms and offices. Once the paintings become part of the Air Force Art Program no one can ever put them in a closet again.

"The big significance is that we capture some heritage so that it doesn't get lost," said Col. Russell Wilson, 721st Mission Support Group commander at CMAFS.

The paintings will receive inventory numbers with instructions that they are not to be moved without notifying the Air Force Art Program, said Russell Kirk, Air Force Art Program director.

"If we didn't accession them, they could be put in a closet and be forgotten," Mr. Kirk said. "With accession numbers, if someone were remodeling and didn't want those paintings anymore, they would come back to us."

For years, the paintings have been a source of conversation and mystery, Colonel Wilson said. The only clue about the paintings' origins is the signature, "T. Patterson." Beyond that, the paintings are not dated and no one knows who T. Patterson was, Colonel Wilson said.

"We still ask the question, where did these paintings come from?" he said.

Art Marthaller, a retired chief master sergeant and retired Department of Defense civilian, found the discarded paintings in the mid-1980s in the Chidlaw Building. The paintings were covered in dust, but he liked them, he said.

"I knew those paintings were something special," he said.

He asked around and no one objected, so he took them up to the mountain and put them up in Building 101's conference room.

The paintings run as a series that begin with Greek mythology and the depiction of Icarus, the Greek man who made wings of feathers and wax to escape Crete. However, he flew too close to the sun and melted his wings causing his crash to earth.

Each painting has a number of faces or images that represent different eras of flight history. The paintings depict the first manned balloon flight in France by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783 and the first successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers in 1903.

T. Patterson also paid homage to World War I German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the Red Barron, and in a separate painting to Valentina Terskova, a Soviet cosmonaut and first woman in space in 1963.

The paintings also treat viewers to the Flying Tiger, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, the Super marine Spitfire and the Boeing Chinook helicopter - which spans 1941 to the early 1960s in three paintings. The artist also paints the Apollo 11 moon landing of 1969 and then the more modern F-15 tactical fighters and Boeing's all-weather surveillance E-3 Sentry, which would indicate the paintings were done after 1977, when those aircraft were introduced.

"As you look at them, they really show the transition of air power," Colonel Wilson said. "There are a lot of famous people in the paintings - it's fun, a lot of folks will stop here and try to figure out who they are."

The paintings have been examined by the 21st Space Wing and Air Force Space Command historians, Colonel Wilson said. But, neither had ever seen the paintings or knew anything about the artist.

"I heard comments and rumors that the painter was a Vietnam vet doing some art therapy," said Jim Burghardt, 721st test control operations chief. "I would like to know who it is."

Another theory is that the artist was a professional because of the detail and quality of work, said Jeff Lucas, 721st MSG test control division chief.

Last year, Colonel Wilson bought new frames for the paintings and invited a representative from the AF Art Program to take a look at them.

The AF Art Program, which is headquartered at the Pentagon, began in 1961 and now has 10,000 works adopted into its program, Mr. Kirk said. The Air Force commissions a cadre of artists from the New York and Los Angeles Society of Illustrators and works with the nation's top aviation artists. Not just any art gets accepted into the program, Mr. Kirk said.

"These paintings (at CMAFS) are of the quality that fits with our program," he said.

Colonel Wilson and other CMAFS employees have searched for T. Patterson on the Internet, but have never found any news of an artist by that name. He would like to find the artist.

"I would like to set up a little plaque that tells the significance of each painting and even a little bit about the artist, and if he is still with us, maybe we could get him to paint another one to continue the series," Colonel Wilson said.

No matter what, T. Patterson is now a part of Air Force history, said Mr. Lucas, who remembers when Mr. Marthaller first found and displayed the paintings.

"It's about time," Mr. Lucas said. "They are historic in their own way."

Anyone who has information about the paintings or the artist, T. Patterson, can call Jeff Lucas at 474-2031.

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui