SMoW Exhibition Features Retrospective of Paul Calle Artwork

“Power to Go” 1969, oil on panel; Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC. Copyright The Calle Family

In celebration of this year’s 50th anniversary of NASA’s successful Apollo 11 mission, Smithsonian Affiliate, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (SMoW), opened a new exhibition Paul Calle’s Life of Exploration: From the Mountains to the Moon Feb. 19. This exhibition shares the rich artistry of Calle’s work documenting epic moments in American history including Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, pioneers of the West, Major League Baseball World Series games and portraits of famous people including President John F. Kennedy and General MacArthur, among others.

The exhibition, available to the public through Oct. 20, will be on view in SMoW’s 3,550-square-foot Bruner-Messinger Gallery and features a comprehensive range of Calle artworks and artifacts, including a recreation of the artist’s Ridgefield, Conn.-based art studio.

“The Great Moment” c. 1969, oil on masonite; Collection of the Orlando Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. John J. McMullen. Copyright The Calle Family

This retrospective exhibition — the first-ever major showing of the artist’s work — traces the career of American artist Paul Calle (1928-2010), who was best known for drawing and painting the historic American West featuring mountain men, fur traders and Native Americans, as well as NASA artwork and postage stamp designs including the iconic 1969 First Man on the Moon artwork and stamp.

While traveling in the American West for many years, Calle established friendships with Native Americans and observed some of their events and ceremonies. Early in his journeys, he witnessed a Hopi ceremonial dance, and he always remembered that moment, which shaped how he painted and depicted the Native American people throughout his entire career. Calle sought to honor their lives and culture through his artworks.

Calle was also an official NASA artist for many decades. In 1962, he was chosen as one of the original eight artists of the newly established NASA Art Program, with a mission to chronicle history and space exploration through the eyes of artists. Calle artistically covered pre-launch activities at Cape Canaveral, aircraft carriers picking up astronauts in the ocean, lift-offs and more across all NASA missions from Gemini to Apollo. His detailed paintings and powerful drawings became synonymous with the NASA program.

The exhibition is summed up in a quote from Paul Calle in the book Celebrating Apollo 11, The Artwork of Paul Calle written by son Chris Calle and published in 2009,

“I have always likened the image of mountain man John Colter, his moccasin-clad foot first stepping on the newly fallen snow of the Yellowstone valley, to the moon boot of Neil Armstrong, stepping in the dust of the moon’s surface at the Sea of Tranquility…two worlds apart, yet each at the edge of a new frontier…”

The exhibition will include objects on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, among other museums and collections.

SMoW is located at 3830 North Marshall Way in Scottsdale. For additional information, call 480.686.9539 or visit

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