Tim Peterson started in his teens collecting Western and Native American art and artifacts.
While strolling through a gallery in Rochester, Minnesota, one particular piece, Paul Calle’s “Something for the Pot II,” stopped him in his tracks.
“It was this beautiful hunting scene with vivid colors and this outdoorsy person, a bird trapper in the 1820s or 1830s,” Peterson recalled. “I had done a lot of camping and hiking and kind of exploring when I was a little kid, so the image interested me a lot that it had this feel of what I thought I was experiencing as a young boy.”
Since then, Peterson has amassed more than 40 pieces of Calle’s work, many of which will be on display at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West’s (SMoW) upcoming exhibition, “Paul Calle’s Life of Exploration: From the Mountains to the Moon.”
Available to the public from Feb. 19 through Oct. 20, the Calle exhibition is a long time coming for Peterson.
As guest curator, Peterson has been planning this exhibition since he began working with SMoW in 2014.
“We began creating these lists of future exhibitions, and one of the exhibitions was Paul Calle,” said Tricia Loscher, assistant director of collections, exhibitions and research at SMoW. “Of course, Tim knowing that in this year, we will be having the anniversary of the landing on the moon, he started to already then plan it.”
July of this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, lunar landing and moonwalk.
Calle, as the official NASA artist for many decades, was the only artist present during the pre-launch activities of the Apollo 11. He sketched the crew having breakfast, suiting up and walking out to the space craft.
Thanks to Calle’s son, Chris Calle, these sketches will be in the exhibition.
The original sketchbook Paul used the day of the mission was also used in the filming of “First Man,” in which Chris played the role of his father.
“One of the amazing things that I uncovered was an entire sketchbook that I’d never seen that my father used the morning of the Apollo 11 launch when he was sketching the Apollo 11 crew,” said Chris, who is also an artist. “It has five or six sketches in it, ones that I had never seen before.”
It wasn’t difficult for Chris to portray his father during filming, either.
In fact, he realized much later that two notably remarkable coincidences occurred during shooting, the first being call time.
“The call was 5 in the morning, which is about the time my dad was going into the breakfast room,” Chris said.
During shooting, Chris also remembered how his father always talked about how terrified he was to drop the ink from his fountain pen onto the pristine white floors.
“So, in many of the sketches you see in the corners these scribbled lines, like when the ink isn’t running and you scribble to try to get it back. His pen kept clogging,” Chris said.
Sure enough, in the middle of filming, the same thing happened to Chris.
“I ran outside, scribbling on a bunch of my sketches. You see this scribbling in the corners, the exact same thing. So that was really funny,” he said.
In addition to being one of the eight original artists of the newly established NASA Art Program in 1962, Paul is also best known for drawing and painting the historic American West, including mountain men, fur traders and Native Americans.
“Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is the perfect place [for this exhibition] because my dad had that spirit, first of all,” Chris said. “This show, in particular, is going to bring something different to the Western art collectors and enthusiasts because of the fact that it includes Western art, but it’s much more than another Western art show.”
Included in the exhibition are the NASA postage stamp designs Paul designed, including the iconic “1969 First Man on the Moon” artwork and stamp.
Paul’s famous portraits of President John F. Kennedy, General MacArthur and The Beatles, among others, will also be on display.
The Calle exhibition sources artwork and objects from nearly 20 lenders, including the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum and objects on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.
About 40 percent of all artwork is from Peterson’s personal collection, and 40 percent comes from the Calle estate.
“We’ve got more material than we actually have space, so we’re actually whittling some things out,” Peterson said.
“When you look at the overall body of work that he did from the 1950s until his death, it actually symbolized via the true American history from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s,” Peterson said. “I hope people walk away and say, ‘I never realized the breadth of the work that this man did.’”
Loscher added, “Paul Calle is not a generally recognized name, like a Picasso, but he did so much in his career that really had a great influence on not only our perception of ourselves as Americans, but how the world views Americans – given what he did with NASA, his postage stamps and illustrating the West.”
Paul’s work as a whole transports Peterson back to his youth.
“It makes me remember those days of hunting and in cold winters for pheasant hunting with my father, or it brings me back to the times I went hiking and camping and canoeing with my friends out in southern and northern Minnesota,” Peterson said.
Peterson first met Paul at a gallery in upstate New York when he was about 30 years old. Since that meeting, Peterson worked directly with Paul on paintings for years, which is how Peterson grew his collection.
“[Paul] finally invited me to his studio and spent time with them at his studio, and after that is when we really started working together and getting to be friends,” Peterson said. “He was someone that had a very strong opinion about what he liked and didn’t like. I cared about him deeply and he was a good friend.”
The idea for the Paul Calle exhibition was discussed with Paul and Chris prior to Paul’s passing in 2010.
Peterson said Chris was phenomenal to work with, in terms of allowing him to access family photos, history of the family and gathering information about all of the paintings they received on loan from other institutions and museums.
The two pieces that resonate most with Chris are “Generations in the Valley,” depicting three generations of Navajo Indian with Monument Valley in the background, and the monumental painting of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon titled “The Great Moment.”
“That’s one piece that is really going to stand out because it’s just so dramatic and large,” Chris said.
Chris hopes to take a photo in front of the painting with Neil Armstrong’s son, Mark Armstrong, who also plans to attend the opening.
Bridging the Old West with the space frontier, the exhibition is summed up in one quote from Chris’ 2009 book, “Celebrating Apollo 11, The Artwork of Paul Calle.”
“I haven 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…”
If you go
“Paul Calle’s Life of Exploration: From the Mountains to the Moon”
When: Feb. 19-Oct. 20
Where: SMoW, 3830 N. Marshall Way