Sunday, September 11, 2011

Air Force Artist's Paintings Capture 9/11 Heroism

"Ground Zero, Eagles on Station" by Rick Herter
Aviation artist Rick Herter built a career out of two of his childhood passions: airplanes and art. His success as an artist would soon intersect with history, however, when the U.S. Air Force called on his talents after the attacks of September 11. Herter was asked to capture the Air Force response in the first moments of the War on Terror, and the resulting paintings have become a source of inspiration to many, including those in our armed forces.
Like most Americans, Herter first heard of the 9/11 attacks through media reports.

"I was in my studio working when the scene began to unfold," he said. "Like millions of Americans, I was stunned. The day immediately made me think back to the stories my mother had told about being a child and hearing the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor."
It would not be long before Herter, a Michigan artist, would witness the aftermath of those tragic events firsthand. As a member of the Air Force Arts Program, Herter often created works of art that captured Air Force history.
"A few weeks after the attacks, I received a call from the director of the art program in the Pentagon. I was asked if I would depict the first Air Force fighter aircraft as they arrived over New York City and Washington, DC."
Soon after, in January 2002, Herter was flying as a passenger in an Air Force F-16, taking pictures and video over New York City as part of the military's combat air patrols over ground zero. As a member of the arts program, Herter was already flight qualified, and the flights he took over New York City (and later over the Pentagon) would serve as research for his 9/11 paintings.
The idea of artists covering Air Force history may sound new to many, but it is actually a decades-old practice. The Air Force Arts Program was founded after World War II as a way to document important events in Air Force history. Artists invited to join the program volunteer their time, materials, and finished works to the Air Force; no tax money is used or paid to artists. For Herter, it is not about the money. "It is an honor to participate, and give back a little for what they have done for us," he said.
Inspired by his mother, a gifted amateur artist, Herter became a noted commercial artist after graduating from Spring Arbor University. His clients included Boeing and Airbus, and he also painted aviation-themed artwork for airshow program covers and posters. His work caught the attention of the Air Force, who invited him to join the arts program in 1987. Herter's work has received national acclaim, and has been displayed at the Smithsonian and the Pentagon.
"First Pass, Defenders Over Washington" by Rick Herter
Herter created two paintings, the first (titled "Ground Zero, Eagles on Station") depicts an F-15 piloted by Lt. Col. Tim Duffy of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, the first pilot to arrive at Ground Zero just seconds after the second tower was hit. The second painting (titled "First Pass, Defenders Over Washington") depicts Capt. Dean Eckmann in his F-16, as he was the first to arrive at the Pentagon. The finished paintings were later unveiled at the Pentagon.
One of Herter's typical paintings takes anywhere from two to four weeks to complete, with an average size of 24 by 36 inches. For his 9/11 paintings, Herter spent an entire year devoted just to the project, with both paintings measuring four by six feet each. "I felt it was necessary to use that size to capture the scale and detail of the event," Herter said.
With a reputation for technical accuracy, Herter made sure every aspect of the painting was perfect, even down to painting the exact number of floors in buildings at Ground Zero. Herter was able to speak with the pilots featured in the paintings, who provided input to make sure the event was accurately depicted.
After completing the 9/11 pieces, Herter continued to create military aviation works, including paintings of jets and copters in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The paintings are dynamic, featuring an energy and realism rarely seen in aviation art. They have received universal acclaim from the public as well as members of the military. Since 9/11, Herter has continued to get a first-hand look at the work of the Air Force, including flying on combat missions in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While he does not plan to revisit September 11 in future paintings, Herter hopes to one day depict the 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound. It may take time, as the type of helicopters and the names of the SEALS involved in the raid remain classified. Herter will wait until he has the full technical specs of the helicopters, believed to be highly advanced Black Hawks not yet revealed to the public. "I feel that painting that mission would be an appropriate bookend to my 9/11 paintings," he said.
In the days leading up to the September 11 anniversary, Herter will once again be at the Pentagon, signing prints of the 9/11 paintings for members of the military. He hopes his works will continue to have a life through many future 9/11 anniversaries.
"My ultimate desire would be that long after I'm gone, my art might educate others to what happened that day," he said. "I hope the paintings inspire future generations of Americans to serve and honor those who have given so much, including their lives, in the defense of freedom. (I hope) the pieces remind those who view them that freedom and security are fragile gifts that should never be taken for granted."
For more information on Rick Herter and his work, contact his studio at or call (269) 271-0098. His website is Limited edition prints of Herter's work, including the 9/11 paintings, are available from many reputable online dealers.

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