Friday, July 31, 2009

Stepping on the Moon with Paul & Chris Calle

Paul Calle 1928-2010

It is with regret that I note that Paul Calle has passed away at age 82 in Connecticut on December 30, 2010. This site is dedicated to his memory.

In 1963, James Webb, instructed NASA to record America's drive to the Moon through the eyes of artists. Of the eight artists first chosen by NASA to document manned spaceflight, one of the artists was a 35 year old illustrator named Paul Calle. In hindsight it seems almost nature now that Paul was among the first to document Man's first journey to another world, since he had illustrated the covers for such science fiction magazines as Amazing Stories in the 1950's.

Although Paul is extraordinarily talented in the use of oils as a painter, it is his use of the pencil that truly makes him a master in the artistic world. This phenomenally gifted skill with one of the simplest implements in an artist's toolbox has allowed Calle virtually unrestricted access to his subjects during America's race to the Moon. Calle was the only NASA selected artist to attend the "suit up" of the Apollo 11 astronauts as they prepared for Man's lunar landing. His pen & ink sketches of those final moments prior to the crew's launch have been widely exhibited around the nation and currently reside in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

Among his many talents as an artist, Calle is a creator of postal stamp art. As such, he designed many US postage stamps for the United States Postal Service including several that are related to spaceflight.

Calle was the creator of one of the most popular USPS stamps ever issued. The "First Man on the Moon" stamp artistically recreates the moment that Neil Armstrong placed his foot onto the surface of the Moon for the first time.

Since the stamp's release in 1969, as shown in the above photograph featuring the Apollo 11 crew and the Postmaster General during the official stamp presentation on September 9th, 1969, it has remained a favorite as a stamp and a collectible. On September 9th, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the stamp's issuance, Collectspace's Robert Pearlman interviewed Paul Calle about the famous piece of postage art. The interview can be found at the link listed below.

Recently, I was able to acquire this preliminary pencil drawing of the "First Man on the Moon" stamp directly from Paul Calle. This sketch represents the final version of the stamp.

Here is a photo of Paul with a final stamp version of the original sketch.

Forty years ago, my parents purchased an original United States Postal Service "First Day Cover" of Paul's "First Man on the Moon" stamp. These cache envelopes or "covers" were issued and canceled on the official first date of a stamp's issue. The above cover was issued and canceled on September 9th, 1969. There is also another cancel imprint for July 20th, 1969, the date of Man's 1st landing on the Moon. A second cancellation imprint is unusual and reflects the importance of that date in the history of human endeavor.

I was also the recipient of a most generous gift to the space art collection by Leslie Cantwell. As a gift, Leslie gave me an original Paul Calle pencil drawing of Calle's initial idea for the "First on the Moon" stamp. The gift was greatly appreciated and came as a complete surprise from a wonderful friend.

As the above scan of the pencil drawing attempts to show, Calle masterfully uses his talent to portray Armstrong's first step onto the Moon's surface. Calle uses an artistic method that ranges from broad course strokes, reminiscent of Van Gogh's work, to finely detailed pencil marks. He pulls this vast range of technique together to provide us with a wonderful sketch that is alive with the potential energy of one of history's most famous moments.

Paul has passed his artistic genes on to his son, Chris, who has also become a well known artist and stamp designer in his own right. They even work in the same art studio together. There must be an impressive exchange of ideas on composition and technique in the workspace that they share in rural New England.

Paul and Chris have collaborated on various projects involving both stamp and coin design. The above photograph shows a completed design drawing for a commemorative coin series for the Marshall Islands.

Paul Calle has been in the unique position, as one of the few artists, to document the transition from science fiction to science fact in the span of his lifetime. He has intimately chronicled manned spaceflight and will be forever linked to Mankind's first footprint on the Moon.

Recently, I have been in contact with Chris Calle. Chris has designed a website, located at , showcasing both his and his father's art work. Through that site, I was able to contact Chris and procure three first day covers provide a representative example of the Calle style.

This first cover pencil drawing of the first man on the moon is the grand daddy of them all. Paul recreated his famous design for the 1969 version of First Man on the Moon stamp on this original first day cover. The cover was cancelled on day the stamp was first displayed publicly by the US Post Office.

Chris Calle shows his talent with a pencil on this first day cover. Chris used the 20th anniversary of Man's first lunar landing to portray Armstrong and Aldrin planting the first American flag on the Moon.

This stamp is up of election as the most iconic stamp to represent the United States in the upcoming International Exhibit at the National Postal Museum. Cast you vote before January 20th, 2010 at museum's website:

Finally, Paul and Chris collaborated on the stamp design representing the 25th anniversary of man's landing on the Moon.

These three covers illustrate the style and technique of two generations of space artists.

While there is sad news in Paul Calle's passing, He leaves his son, Chris Calle, who is an extremely talented artist, to carry on their artistic tradition as Chris demonstrates in this pencil drawing of his father as a Mountain Man in the Old West.*


*UPDATE December 2010:Paul and Chris were prolific painters in the Western Art genre. Both participated in the Prix de West art competition held annually at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK. Their art is shown here at their website.


UPDATE: August 1st, 2009. I had lunch with Chris Calle today. Chris brought along his new book, "Celebrating Apollo 11: The Artwork of Paul Calle." Chris's book lovingly traces his father Paul and his artistic journey through America's race to the Moon. The book represents one of the best retrospectives of Paul Calle's space art, since Abrams published the now famous "Eyewitness to Space" catalog in 1973.

Chris has enlisted many of the people involved in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo program to describe their feelings about Paul Calle's artwork. Astronauts like Bill Anders talk about a painting like "Power to Go!" (reproduced on the book's cover) provided such a vivid recollection of the his own Saturn V launch on Apollo 8 that he choose the painting for his residence which he was Ambassador of Norway as an example of American art.

Andy Chaikin wrote the forward for the book and really nailed the description of Paul's drawing technique by saying, " vibrate with some kind of fantastic energy, like iron filings tracing the contours of a magnetic field." Any of us who had ever played with a game called "Wooly Wily" on a long road trip in the family automobile in the early 1960's ( ) will understand what Andy was describing when he wrote of Paul's pen and ink drawing technique.

The book's publisher used high quality paper and high resolution photographs to capture the detail in Paul's exquisite pencil work.

The book is short and sweet and full of Paul's magical pen and ink drawings. It is a book not to be missed by any space art fan.

I would urge any one reading this blog to contact Chris Calle at to buy a signed copy of the book.