Photo by Robert E. David
                                    
Celebrating Chesley Bonestell’s Birthday
by Ron Miller and Douglass M. Stewart, Jr.

Chesley Bonestell knew the exploration of space would be a part of our future. During his 98 years on Earth, he saw it become a reality. In honor of his birthday on January 1, we remember this great visionary and the dazzling art he left behind.

Bonestell’s story began 134 years ago when the world was very different.

Grover Cleveland, painted by Eastman Johnson
It was 1888 … and Grover Cleveland was the 22nd President of the United States. Cleveland became the only American President to leave the White House at the end of his first term, and then later serve a second term, when he was re-elected as the 24th President.
 
Exciting new technology was already making an impact. In 1876, the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.
Credit: Wikipedia                               
Alexander Graham Bell demonstrating the telephone.
The electric light bulb was first patented by Thomas Edison in 1879 . . .
Credit: Wikipedia
Thomas Edison in his laboratory
 
and using an Eastman paper negative, French artist Louis Le Prince, filmed
the first motion picture
all of 1.6 seconds longin 1888.
Credit: Wikipedia                                                                  
Artist and filmmaker Louis Le Prince
Just fifteen years later, Wilbur and Orville Wright would make the first powered, controlled, sustained airplane flight in history in 1903.
Credit: Wikipedia
December 17, 1903:  Orville Wright pilots the “Wright Flyer” with the assistance of Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

…but it would take another 38 years before the first liquid-fueled rocket would be launched by Robert H. Goddard in 1926.

Credit: Wikipedia                           
March 16, 1926: Robert H. Goddard and his liquid-fueled rocket.

Chesley Bonestell was the product of an era that ushered in the development of automobiles, aircraft, and motion pictures, that knew rockets only from fireworks displays or as ineffective military weapons, but he eventually came to have a significant hand in the implementation of all these innovations.
 
Bonestell survived the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to go on to contribute to some of the most memorable icons of the twentieth century, perhaps more so than any other artist in American history.
 
As an architect, he lent his talents to the design of Walter Chrysler’s Chrysler Building in New York.

Bonestell’s designs for the Chrysler Building.

Bonestell’s artwork was instrumental in getting the Golden Gate Bridge constructed, allowing automobiles and pedestrians a means to cross the waters that separate Marin County from San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge by Chesley Bonestell

He created some of the most memorable visuals in such classic motion pictures as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Magnificent Ambersons, Citizen Kane and The Fountainhead.

Credit: RKO Pictures
Xanadu Castle from the 1941 film “Citizen Kane,”
painted by Chesley Bonestell
Credit: Paramount Pictures
Detail of Bonestell’s lunar panorama
from the 1950 film “Destination Moon.”
Most importantly of all, he helped lay the groundwork for the American space program and its journey into “The Final Frontier."

Working closely for decades with such renowned experts as Wernher von Braun, Willy Ley, Robert Richardson and Arthur C. Clarke, Bonestell was instrumental in conveying the idea, the practicality, indeed the necessity, of space flight to the American public.
Credit: Collier’s
Wernher von Braun in front of a Chesley Bonestell painting from the
Collier’s magazine series they collaborated on in the 1950’s.
There are many ways in which the future might seem to be predicted, something science fiction is famous for. One of these ways is to cause the future to come to pass, to help create the technologies and events that would appear decades or centuries later. Bonestell’s work was the literal launching pad for the hundreds who were inspired by his vision, the future scientists, engineers and astronauts who made space travel a reality.
Credit: NASA
July 20, 1969: Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin is about to step onto the Moon.
Few individual artists have touched upon so many lives in so many different ways. Much of the cultural and scientific history of our country would have been different had it not been for the manifold talents of Chesley Bonestell, for his unwavering confidence in the future. This Bonestell rendering is so inspirational that it has been called  “The painting that launched a thousand careers.”

Saturn as seen from Titan (1944) by Chesley Bonestell

Bonestell’s long life spanned the advancement of aerospace history in the twentieth century. He read about the first flights of the Wright brothers and lived to see the first satellites, the first humans land on the moon and the launch of the first space shuttle.
 
 So let us tip our hats and raise a toast this New Year’s Day to honor one of America’s genuine unsung heroes, Chesley Bonestell, on what would have been his 134th birthday.

Chesley Bonestell  (January 1, 1888 - June 11, 1986)

To experience our award-winning documentary on Mr. Bonestell, please click on the image below.

 Here’s wishing everyone a healthy, happy and safe New Year!
                                                      -The Chesley Bonestell Team
 
Douglass M. Stewart, Jr., Ron Miller, Melvin Schuetz, Christopher Darryn, Kristina Hays and Jim Castle
 
Chesley Bonestell paintings courtesy of Bonestell LLC
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