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In Plane Sight

Hiu Lai Chong, artist, paints a C-130 at the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, Oct. 26, 2016. Chong was painting the C-130 as part of the EnPleinAirTEXAS competition in San Angelo, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Edwards/Released)

Hiu Lai Chong, artist, paints a C-130 at the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, Oct. 26, 2016. Chong was painting the C-130 as part of the EnPleinAirTEXAS competition in San Angelo, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Edwards/Released)

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

The painting “A Wing and a Prayer” hangs on a wall in the Norma Brown Building on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, June 29, 2017. The painting was painted by Hiu Lai Chong and was gifted to the wing in honor of U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Downs, 17th Training Wing Commander and his spouse Leah Downs who accepted it on behalf of the base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Scott Jackson/Released)

The painting “A Wing and a Prayer” hangs on a wall in the Norma Brown Building on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, June 29, 2017. The painting was painted by Hiu Lai Chong and was gifted to the wing in honor of U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Downs, 17th Training Wing Commander and his spouse Leah Downs who accepted it on behalf of the base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Scott Jackson/Released)

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- In the Norma Brown Building main conference room hangs an oil painting depicting a C-130 airplane on the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy training pad in an early morning training exercise.

The piece is entitled "A Wing and a Prayer.” Several community members gifted the painting to Goodfellow in honor of Col. Michael Downs, 17th Training Wing Commander and his wife, who accepted the gift on behalf of the wing, on December 4, 2016. Hiu Lai Chong, nationally acclaimed Rockville, Maryland artist created the piece at the local 2016 EnPleinAirTEXAS competition.

The term “En Plein Air” means “in the open air”, referring to artists painting their landscape pieces outside. Originally taught in France, America embraced this style in the early 1800's by the Hudson Valley School Artists of upstate New York. The San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts and EnPleinAirTEXAS organization hold an annual En Plein Air competition, hosting renowned artists from all over the country to paint in the San Angelo community. It is one of the top En Plein Air events in the nation.

"The co-chair and I...decided to include the base in the paintings," recalls Treva Boyd, co-chair of EnPleinAirTEXAS. "We called Col. Downs' office and then asked from the competing artists who would like to volunteer to paint out there."

Early the first morning, Hiu Lai Chong was one of those volunteers. Two of the six to eight paintings each artist averaged were submitted to the competition.

"During an en plein air event, I always like to paint machines and steam engines, something unique and different, not just sky or trees," says Chong.

On deciding which subject to choose on base, she noticed a training exercise going on among firefighters and didn't want to miss her chance to produce a painting with that kind of action and movement.
The painting took more than a wing and a prayer to complete, as the direction of the sunlight and intensity of the heat increased that morning. "It was a hot day, so rule number one, you have to look for shade," says Chong.

She was fortunate to find shade under a neighboring plane, which served the dual purpose of creating an optical frame inside the piece for contrast. Timeliness was another challenge.

"Painting the sunlight only happened within an hour, so you have to be prepared for the shadow change. And with the sun rise, the colors would change as well. To do that you have to mix the colors quickly to get the color right."

Time wasn't necessarily on her side, as much as the firefighters were. The second day the propeller had changed location and per her request the firefighter group readjusted it to its position in the painting. With their ongoing training, she was able to capture different Airmen's poses and composite them in positions she wanted, for full effect.

The colonel and his wife, are proud to accept the piece on behalf of the base and wish to thank the five couples who sponsored and donated the artwork: Dr. Carol Ann and Charlie Bonds, Treva and Mike Boyd, Patsy and Kirk Cleere, Candyce and Lee Pfluger, and Lisa and Scott Stegar.