EVERETT — The Tuskegee Airmen were the United States’ first African-American military pilots.
Red Tails, Silver Wings — the current exhibition at the Schack Art Center — honors these heroic World War II veterans, recognizes Black History Month (February) and celebrates the talents of Everett artist Chris Hopkins.
Some of Hopkins’ 70 narrative paintings of the famed airmen are permanently exhibited at the Pentagon. Most of the artwork has toured the country. And now more than 50 paintings and sketches hang in the main gallery at the Schack.
Hopkins, 63, describes himself as a visual narrator. The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is what’s important, he said.
The Tuskegee Airmen challenged racial discrimination in the military. At the beginning of World War II, the armed forces were still segregated and the Army Air Corps refused to train young black men as pilots. In response to a lawsuit, the Air Corps (forerunner to the Air Force) agreed to train pilots and crews at Tuskegee University in Alabama.
“The Jim Crow era gave way to the Tuskegee Airmen,” Hopkins said. “And they were a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.”
The artist began the series during his service to the Air Force Art Program.
“It was received much better than I anticipated,” he said. “I am proud of this body of work.”
Over the years, the series became a personal mission and passion. The project is a heartfelt tribute aimed at accurately portraying the battles over Europe and the stateside work of these first black fighter pilots, their support crews, their families, their predecessors and their legacy, Hopkins said.
In the 1980s, during the pre-digital age, Hopkins was based in Los Angeles, where he painted movie posters and covers for record albums, magazines and books. He was arguably one of the most sought-after illustrators in the county.
Born in Mount Vernon and raised in Medford, Oregon, Hopkins left LA to move back to the Northwest. He and his family landed in Everett in 1988.
Another series by Hopkins — Trail of Cedar, Stone & Canvas — was shown at the Schack in 2014. That series is a tribute to the Northwest Coast first nations and tribes, “who preserve history and enrich culture in contemporary times,” he said.
Hopkins, his wife and their son currently are completing a series of artworks detailing the plight of West Coast Japanese Americans during World War II.
“My wife’s parents were interned in the Minidoka camp in Idaho,” Hopkins said. “The series illustrates the worst and the best of humanity.”
In conjunction with the Red Tails, Silver Wings exhibit, Hopkins and his friend, author Guy E. Franklin, plan to talk about “Black Aviation during World War II” tonight at the Schack. Franklin is the author of “The Tuskegee Airmen: The Rest of The Story.”
“It should be a fun and informative evening,” Hopkins said.
In the loft gallery at the Schack see a complementary exhibit by retired Boeing designer Robert Parks, 90, of Shoreline.
Historic Aircraft Profiles includes dozens of Parks’ colorful and detailed drawings and paintings of planes.
Parks loved watching planes when he was a boy in Maryland. He served stateside in the Air Force during World War II, went to Duke University and worked at Boeing for 48 years.
“In between all this I flew in almost 50 different types of airplanes and performed as an air show clown in numerous air shows in the Northwest,” he said. “I also achieved some fame as an aviation artist and illustrated the book ‘Ernest K. Gann’s Flying Circus.’ One of my paintings resides in the Smithsonian Institution, though it might be in storage now, and there are many in corporate offices.”
Parks, who has participated in the Fresh Paint festival hosted by the Schack on the Everett waterfront, said he is honored to be involved in the current exhibition.
If you go
Red Tails, Silver Wings, through Feb. 25. Also, hear a lecture about the Tuskegee Airmen at 7 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Schack. Admission is $5. Sponsored by the City of Everett Cultural Arts Commission.
Historic Aircraft Profiles, through Feb. 4.
Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett; schack.org; 425-259-5050.