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Artist Profile: M. Alvarez

Who is (or was) M.E. Alvarez?

Alvarez was an illustrator at North American Rockwell.

Beyond that, we know nothing about the artist. Not even a first name. There’s probably a box, on a shelf, in a basement somewhere at Boeing with old NAR personnel files that holds a clue. Short of burglary, I can’t see a way to answer the question. HR departments are surprisingly reluctant to give out that kind of information.

I thought perhaps the artist chose to sobriquet or nom-de-guerre to create a firewall between his or her commercial work and a fine art career. It’s not unheard of, I know plenty of artists in animation who take the day job for the benefits and do fine art or illustration in their spare time. Sleuthing just muddies the water. Alvarez is a very common name in the art world, both in the Americas and in Europe. The first hit on Google is almost always the American painter Mabel Alvarez, and I can say with some authority it’s not her. Looking through auction sites at Mabel Alvarez work, I did find a painting attributed to her signed, “M. Alvarez ’98.” Mable died in 1985.

So, like the piece on John Gorsuch, all I can really do is lay out something like a timeline told through art, and hope you enjoy it.

Above: Apollo 15 launching a subsatellite in lunar orbit. Painted in 1970/71. Below: Contractor’s depiction of a satellite, circa 1970.

Mister Shuttle

When North American Rockwell became the prime contractor for the Shuttle Program in 1972, it’s art department created the lion’s share of shuttle related art during the seventies. In effect, that made Alvarez Mr. Shuttle.

Above: Painted in 1972 – a first glimpse of the orbiter. Below: 1973, Rockwell engineers consider stowing the SRMS in a hump over the cargo bay and fuselage.

By 1974, the orbiter starts to take a familiar form.

Below Left: Beautiful painting of a shuttle launch. Below Right: The same image found in The National Archives. It’s in poor shape, but un-cropped and in colour.

Above: Iconic Alvarez. Below: From the same year: two versions of the same painting, showing an orbiter with the ESA Spacelab installed.

Below: Final arrangement, painted sometime between 1975 and 1976 Bottom: N905NA still in American Airlines cheats.

Below: Third version of this painting I’ve found – and there may be more – Rockwell engineers start playing around with mascara.

I’ve not found any Shuttle Program art by Alvarez after 1977, presumably browned-off after five years of endless revisions, the artist may have hung up his/her shuttle painting boots.

Into The Eighties

Above: 1977/78. Rockwell International’s Star-raker, a heavy-lift ramjet/rocket HTHL SSTO capable of atmospheric cruise and powered landing. Below: 1980’s Rockwell proposals for AMSC. Middle Row: Lunar base with an oxygen production facility. Bottom Row: A nuclear vehicle arrives in Mars orbit and a surface base.


Above: Space station concept found in a 1985 book by Don Dwiggins. Below: “Rockwell Tradition in High Performance Vehicles” depicting Space Shuttle, B-1B, Apollo/Saturn, XB-70, X-15, X-10, and The National Aero-Space Plane. Published in 1988, it’s the latest work I can find from the artist’s time at North American Rockwell. If it is indeed his or her last, then I think it stands as an amazing piece to end a career with.

Image credit: North American Rockwell

Image source(s):


Internet Archive

Mike Acs

National Archives

Numbers Station

SDASM Archives


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