The 50th Anniversary of the First Lunar Landing from an Artist’s Perspective

Man’s Tracks on the Moon, 1969

Norman Rockwell, Study for The Final Impossibility: Man’s Tracks on the Moon, 1969, Painted for Look, Dec. 30, 1969, Oil on photographic paper mounted on board, 14 x 21 ½ inches (image), Norman Rockwell Museum, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust

That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong, July 20th, 1969

On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (1930-) became the first humans to land on the moon. Just a few hours later, Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. As he set took his first step, Armstrong famously said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It is amazing to think that the The Apollo 11 mission occurred only eight years after President John Kennedy announced a national goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

Jamie Wyeth Apollo XI
Image credit: Jamie Wyeth, Apollo XI — To the Moon, July 16, 1969, 1969/2009, Watercolor on paper, Adelson Galleries

Documenting this momentous event and all the other accomplishments by NASA was essential. For years, artists had painted images of the moon. As the moon missions progressed, NASA commissioned artists to depict the human technology and personal efforts to reach the moon – rather than the moon itself.  Jamie Wyeth painted watercolors documenting the space program. He traveled to Cape Canaveral, Florida (then known as Cape Kennedy) to observe launches and painted several watercolors of the Apollo XI launch site. NASA even took him by helicopter to see rocket splashdowns—the landing of a spacecraft by para-chute in a body of water—including the first manned trip to the moon on the Apollo XI mission in 1969.

Artists were commissioned to document the moon landing in mainstream media as well. According to Norman Rockwell, Look magazine contacted him to commission images of astronauts on the moon three years before the first lunar landing on July 24, 1969. The artist visited NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, just a few weeks after this historic event to collect more research information and visuals for the December magazine article.

In the 1960s, Rockwell was a living legend, arguably America’s best known and most beloved illustrator. After his last Saturday Evening Post cover, a portrait of John F. Kennedy, he worked primarily for Look magazine. In tune with current events and concerns, he addressed subjects related to civil rights as well as the space program. In 1977, President Gerald Ford awarded Rockwell the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country.”

Come see these, and other works, currently on display as part of the exhibit The Color of the Moon, now on display through September 8th.

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