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Merv Corning

In Loving Memory of Merv Corning. Merv Passed Away on September 25th, 2006. We’ll miss him. Creator of Esterline’s Heritage of the Air Collection of WWI aviation paintings, Merv has been making realist art on a range of subjects close to his heart, from airplanes to automobiles, landscapes to portraits, since 1945.

“My dad and uncle owned a Waco open-cockpit biplane, and flying about in that airplane at the tender age of eight left an indelible impression indeed. I’ve flown many hours since those less complicated times, in all kinds of aircraft, but nothing will ever match the thrill of lifting off in that Waco. I remember the sound of wind in wire, the hot fuel and oil smells, the clattering engine noise and the lurching, swooping, sometime weightless feeling of flight.” Corning has the gift of translating his feeling for his subject into paint. “My goal …is the marriage of the airplane, authentic in every detail, with the rich, sometimes scarred landscapes over which these young warriors flew. I place the viewer in the air, beside these beautiful ancient machines, to experience the sensation of flight…”

In addition to the 43 watercolors of heroic WWI pilots and planes he originally painted for Leach International (now a subsidiary of Esterline Corporation), Corning is equally well known for his portraits of players commissioned by the National Football League. As recently as 2003, he was presented the R. G. Smith Award for Excellence in Naval Aviation at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida. Corning is currently creating the final watercolor in Esterline’s Heritage of the Air series. That collection, along with a special display on “Merv Corning and the Artist’s Process,” will be exhibited at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, opening February 2, 2006.

Mervin Allen Corning, born June 16, 1926, in Santa Ana, California, joined the Merchant Marines at age 17 and remained in that service until the end of World War II. Though he had been drawing since childhood, he began his career as an illustrator for Kleer, a Bay Area drug company chain. In less than two years, Corning worked as an art director for L.C. Cole, a prominent San Francisco advertising agency. In 1949, he became the men’s fashion artist for the Broadway Department Stores in Los Angeles. In 1953 Corning’s versatility led him to Studio Artist Inc., a professional group of artists committed to providing a complete art service for advertising agencies and their clients, which included TWA, Lockheed, Ford-Mercury, Sunkist and North American. Starting as an illustrator, he became a partner and eventually president of the corporation.

It was during his tenure at Studio Artist that Leach International commissioned Corning to paint the Heritage of the Air series of WWI watercolors. What started as a set of four paintings to be used in a Leach ad campaign with Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine became, due to their enormous popularity, a series of 45 paintings that spanned a decade, from 1959 to 1970. (Since that time, two more of Corning’s paintings have been added to the collection.) In 1965 Corning began a long association with the Automobile Club of Southern California, creating some 16 covers for their Westways magazine. The NFL first contacted Corning in 1966-67 for watercolor illustration work; their relationship would span 30 years, with Corning becoming the official National Football League Super Bowl artist in 1977. In 1968 Corning had his first one-man show at the Nut Tree Gallery in Vacaville, California.

Merv Corning retired from Studio Artist in 1969, devoting his time exclusively to fine art painting and commissions. His work has been extensively shown and collected worldwide: the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, the U.S. Air Force Museum and Archives, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Royal Air Force Museum in England, the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and the Football Hall of Fame, as well as a great number of galleries across the country. Corning is the recipient of many awards, including “ The Dillon Lauritzen Memorial Award” (1975) from the Art Director’s Club of Los Angeles for the best painting of the year, “Artist of the West Gold Medal Award” (1989) from the American Indian and Cowboy Artists and the previously mentioned “R.G. Smith Award for Excellence in Aviation Art” (2003) from the National Museum of Aviation Art. More than 65 publications, such as Life, Time, Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, American Artist, Aviation, Aviation Heritage and Aviation History, have reproduced Merv Corning’s artwork. His exploration of other art forms led to his handmade aircraft lithographs, which were published by Circle Fine Art Corporation.

Represented by Young’s Gallery in Los Olivos, California, Merv Corning resided and continued to paint in Solvang, California until his death in 2006 at the age of 80.

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