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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


Artist Profile: Ted Brown

I like Teds. My grandfather was a Ted. Everyone called him Ted because he hated Timothy and nobody was going to call him Tim to his face. He was a lovely man and that’s how I got my middle name. Teds are cool. 

Today we are taking another Ted: Ted Brown.

There are few artists in the aerospace industry whose career was as varied or accomplished as Ted Brown. Ted began as a graphic designer with Douglas in 1962, and over the next four decades carved out an enviable career: he illustrated everything from the Buck Rogers imaginings of Philip Bono, Gemini and Apollo to the Shuttle Program. His art permeates the story of space exploration. It is in industry periodicals, newspapers and books and has been since the early sixties. You know his work. He is as ubiquitous as he is anonymous and that’s something I love about him, because I imagine that is exactly how he wanted it. So, this is the story of Ted Brown.

Theodore Bartholomew Brown was born in 1931 in Los Angeles, California. He attended Manual Arts High School, Pasadena City College, and the  ArtCenter of Design in Los Angeles. In 1951 Ted joined the United States Air Force, serving for two years including a posting in Japan. At home, he led the youth ministry and sang in the chorus of his local church, where he met Martha Shepherd Palmer. They married in 1957.

In 1962, Ted began working as a graphic artist for Douglas. At that time the art department had a very strong house style, so his work is often hard to pick out but it’s there.

Top Row: Project Deimos, a Mars expedition proposed by Bono in the mid-1960’s using his ROMBUS SSTO as the propulsion system to Mars and back. Bottom Row: Ithacus, the ROMBUS reimagined as a 1200 soldier intercontinental troop transport.

Manned Orbital Research Laboratory (MORL), painted for Boeing in 1966 or possibly earlier.

Beautiful work by Ted of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, painted sometime in 1968. I would regard this as his masterpiece.

Rockwell International Space Systems Group released these paintings of the Space Shuttle in the late seventies as part of their charm offensive on the taxpayer. Follow the source links for more information on each image.

This incredible cutaway painted by Ted will be familiar to anyone who’s read the Piers Bizony book: The Art of NASA. There was some serious detective work done to confirm the artist, which you can read about here.

Top Row: Space Station Designs (1982) Bottom Left: Dual Keel Station Bottom Right: Austere Modular Space Station

In 1980, Ted led a team that created this mural entitled Space Products. Unveiled to the public at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, it was later moved to the Launch Control Center. In addition to his aerospace work, Ted was also a portrait and abstract painter. An unassuming and humble man, he never had any real interest in promoting or selling his art, most of which he gifted to friends and family.

Ted retired in 2002, and passed away peacefully in 2017 at the age of 86, survived by second wife Afsanch and the children of both his marriages: Pamela Victoria, Angela Carole, Jonathan Michael, Andrew Christopher, and Arman Jason.

People who knew him described him a man who defined class, gentility, kindness and humor.

There’s scant information about Ted available online, but you can read a little bit more about him here.

Image source(s):

Mike Acs

SDASM Archives

Numbers Station

National Archives

Artist Profile: John Sentovic

John M. Sentovic

Born:  1924 – Lead, South Dakota

That’s pretty much everything the internet has to offer on John Sentovic. He lived. And maybe he died. And that’s something of a tragedy to me, because he is/was a rather amazing artist who painted some incredible things for a company that was in the business of making incredible things.

And that’s John Sentovic, Sentovic  the unknowable. Or he was, until a week or so ago when I got an email from Mike, who’d come across a piece that SPACE AGE ran about him in 1960.

So John was indeed born in 1924, in Leed South Dakota. In 1925 his family moved San Diego where he graduated as an art major from San Diego High in 1943. A month after graduating he joined the Navy and served as a gunner’s mate aboard a tanker in the Pacific. In 1945 he was transferred to the Naval Ammunition Depot at Hawthorne Nevada, where he was – amongst other things – the staff artist and sports writer for the base newspaper. After his discharge in 1946, Sentovic was playing semi-pro ball in San Diego while waiting for G.I. approval of his plans to attend art school. A scout for the Boston Braves asked him to play ball for a Brave farm team.

“I was torn between two loves – art and baseball,” John said. “Finally, after a long talk with myself, I chose the field of art.”

After attending La Jolla, John worked at an advertising agency, then spent time as a staff artist for the San Diego Union-Tribune before joining Convair in 1953. In 1954, Krafft Ehricke, who had just joined Convair to work on the Atlas, became interested in John’s art which is when their partnership began.

In 1958, just a year after Sputnik 1, Ehricke designed a four-man space station known as Outpost. The illustrations above show the arrival of the Atlas vehicle in orbit, conversion into a station and installation of a nuclear powerplant. The design inspired the Hawk Atlas Space Station kit released in 1960.

The iconic Ehricke lunar lander beautifully painted by John in the late fifties.

Solar-powered vehicle in lunar orbit by Sentovic, painted around 1959. If John had a masterpiece, I think this is it.

Illustrations depicting HELIOS, a nuclear ferry design.

Convair’s Apollo M-1 proposal is a fascinating “what-if”, expertly rendered by John in 1962.

John created these renderings of the Saturn RIFT in the early sixties.

Begun in 1962, EMPIRE was the first study of a Mars mission conducted under NASA’s auspices. Three contractors were selected: Aeronutronic, General Dynamics, and Lockheed. Ehricke led General Dynamic’s EMPIRE team, the result was an exhaustive study of Mars orbiter and landing missions.

John put his airbrush aside for some of his paintings of EMPIRE surface operations , creating amongst others this unusually lush vision of the Martian surface.

John never lost his love for sports; he liked to swim, played a round of golf once a week and played shortstop on the Convair softball team and thats’s almost where the trail runs cold. I don’t know for sure when John retired, but he passed away in 1999 and was laid to rest at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. The San Diego Air & Space Museum has shared over one hundred of John’s pieces of their Flickr account, but for convenience sake I’ve created a gallery here if you’d like to dig a little deeper.

Image credit: Convair

Image source(s):

Mike Acs

SDASM Archives

Artist Profile: Roy Gjertson

Born in Minnesota in 1925, Roy served as a crewman on Army Air Corps Liberators during World War II. Returning to civilian life, Roy and his wife Elnar Fay settled in San Pedro. After taking art lessons, Roy worked for several aviation companies in the Los Angeles area in the fifties and sixties. Accepting  a position at Convair, Roy and his family moved to San Diego in 1967.

Roy’s candy-colored art of past, present and future projects enlivened General Dynamics reports, brochures and proposals for over two decades. Roy’s paintings are loose, almost cartoony but beautifully composed.

The artist at work in the studio.

Roy’s incredible paintings of fly-back boosters Convair developed for the Shuttle Program were part of the inspiration for this blog. 

Demonstrative of his range, Roy’s more technical illustrations are sombre and atmospheric. The pop art colours give way to a muted palette and his lighting shifts towards a chiaroscuro look.

Roy retired in 1992. A large number of Roy’s works were donated to the San Diego Air & Space Museum when General Dynamics shuttered the San Diego division in 1993, including these two particularly ominous paintings of the Rockwell B-1 Lancer. 

Roy passed away in 2018, survived by children Erica and Dennis and Dennis’ wife Kathy. Elnar Fay died in 2006. They’re interred together at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

Image source: SDASM Archives

Artist Profile: John Gorsuch

For this – the seven hundredth post – I thought it would be fun to do something I’ve been planning for while, and take an in depth look at one artist: John Gorsuch. Gorsuch worked as an illustrator for the Glenn L. Martin company for at least two decades. He began his career there when Martin was still in the propliner business and continued to create illustrations for them into the late sixties, when Martin had become Martin Marietta and shifted their focus to missile and space products. Beyond that there isn’t a lot to tell, we know next to nothing about the man. Some of his art survived and that and the fact it’s here, is in no small part due to efforts of people like Mike and Ed. Do enjoy!

Left: John’s kinetic 1959 illustration shows a Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw (S-55) recovering a film canister dropped from an orbiting satellite. Right: From same year, a concept of radar-guided spaceship heading for Mars.

Painted sometime between 1959 and 1961, Gorsuch’s illustration of a more modern looking pair of manned satellites in orbit around Saturn.

John created these beautiful paintings of Ranger probes in 1960.

Dated December 4, 1960, a B-70-type aircraft carrying something nefarious looking.

Gorsuch created this painting of a primordial Earth in 1961, for an article by Dr. Israel Monroe Levitt.

If you’re going to build a moon base in 1962, you’re going to need tanks. Space tanks and lots of them!

From 1963, “mobile fighter satellites ‘ride herd’ on their flock of offensive satellites to protect them from possible destruction by the enemy.” If you don’t love this image you may not have a soul.

Taut, dramatic depictions of Project Gemini spacecraft. The bottom piece was used by NASA as an official press release, S-66-50809 and can be found in that form here, on the New Mexico Museum of Space History’s Flickr page.

Top Left and Right: Art from 1964 and 1967 illustrating articles by Dr. I.M. Levitt. I’m especially amused by the driver of the vehicle on the right. Is it even remotely possibly that that is The Invisible Man? Bottom: Beautifully composed and impeccably lit painting from 1969, depicting astronauts discovering a lunar ice deposit.

John’s high contrast sensibility lent perfectly to reproduction in black and white – but like most agency art – the originals were likely all created in color.

Glenn L. Martin Company Christmas card for 1948 highlighting their newest product, the 2-0-2 airliner.

Top Left: An FDL-8 in orbit graced the cover of Irwin Stambler’s 1965 book Orbiting Stations. Top Right: From the official souvenir book of The New York World’s Fair 1964-65 – I’m pretty sure this is Gorusch – Martin Company art depicting their Space Taxi about to dock with a space station. I might be wrong about the attribution, so don’t be afraid to drop me a line if you know otherwise. Incidentally, Rendezvous in Space, the short film that accompanied the exhibit survived and is on YouTube: Rendezvous in Space – Part A, Rendezvous In Space – Part B. This 1964 clip from CBS is a fun watch too. Bottom: Beautiful image of the X-24A flying under rocket power, with Gorsuch’s signature in the lower right corner.

Image source(s):

Mike Acs

Ed Dempsey

Drew Granston

Numbers Station