The Museum of Flight was proud to premier Red Tails, Silver Wings, an exhibit featuring 46 paintings and drawings by local artist, Chris Hopkins. The paintings capture the history of America's first African American fighter squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen. The exhibit was on display in the Great Gallery from February 28, 2013 and through May 12, 2013.
The Tuskegee Airmen challenged racial segregation and paved the way for the integration of the armed forces. At the beginning of World War II, the United States armed forces were still segregated and the U.S. Army Air Corps refused to train African Americans as pilots. In response to a lawsuit, the Army Air Corps agreed to an experiment training pilots and crews at Tuskegee University, Alabama.
Though the government thought the experiment would fail, the Tuskegee Airmen, as the pilots and crews came to be known, defied expectations. They amassed a remarkable record escorting allied bombers over Europe. Very few bombers were lost under their escort and their pilots fared significantly better in this mission than many other squadrons. The pilots flew Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, and North American P-51 Mustangs in combat with distinction. Although they also trained to fly the North American B-25 twin-engine bomber, the war ended before these were deployed.
Chris Hopkins began his painting career as a commercial illustrator working in the entertainment industry. Among other things, he produced iconic posters for movies including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Return of the Jedi. He was also nominated for a Grammy for his album cover art for Styx's Paradise Theatre.
After moving to the Northwest in 1988, Hopkin's career began to change from slick airbrush advertising to a more painterly style working on private commissions to depict historical events. Hopkins produced works depicting the histories of Northwest Native tribes and portraits of Northwest Native American artists. He also became known for his military artwork. Hopkins produced works honoring the men and women who served in Operation Desert Storm and in the war in Vietnam.
Hopkins began work on his Tuskegee Airmen series as part of his work for the Northwest chapter of the Air Force Art program. Over the years, the series has moved beyond the Air Force Art program to become a personal mission and passion for Hopkins. The Tuskegee Airmen project is a tribute that consists of more than 40 paintings that accurately portray the foreign and domestic exploits of the first African American fighter pilots, their support crews, their families, their predecessors as well as their legacy. With the help of surviving Tuskegee Airmen, Pentagon personnel, and noted historians, this body of work has been created with tremendous attention to detail and accuracy.
To learn more about Chris Hopkins and his Tuskegee Airmen series, be sure to visit his website chrishopkinsart.com
From Evening Magazine - February, 2012: