ELK CREEK, Va., May 25, 2012 — Tucked away in the far southwest corner of Virginia sits a former schoolhouse, its gymnasium transformed into a temporary home for one of the country’s most anticipated historic reconstructions. Illustrator Todd Price is on hands and knees, laboriously applying vinyl inks to his one-of-a-kind, large scale canvas – Intrepid, the world’s first and only Civil War manned balloon replica.
Based on photos, drawings and notes depicting the original Intrepid, Mr. Price’s work is attempting to maintain historical accuracy. One side of the balloon shows an American Eagle with wings outstretched (25 feet from tip to tip) clutching an American flag, and holding in its beak a framed portrait of revered General George McClellan. The other side prominently displays the Intrepid moniker.
“To our knowledge, no one else has attempted to paint an image this large and complex on a balloon in modern times,” said Peter Arnold, president and CEO of GCV&M. “After looking at the number of challenges associated with this task, it becomes a bit easier to understand why.”
Following fabrication of the Intrepid’s shell envelope by AeroBalloon in Hingham, Mass., it was recently transported to Elk Creek, Va., where Mr. Price keeps his studio, ToddPriceArt. After carefully maneuvering the 45-by-70-foot, 1,500-pound balloon into the vacant school gymnasium, he set to work.
The artist describes his painstaking process. “I first made a transparency of my original illustration, projected it to full scale on pattern paper, and perforated the images. Finding the center lines of the balloon, I rolled the patterns out and transferred the images with a charcoal pounce bag through the holes. I then penciled the full size image onto the balloon.”
“After premixing vinyl inks – a warm, medium and cool for each element – I began painting from the center using fitches, working outward to avoid kneeling on the image. The inks dry very rapidly, altering my usual blending techniques, so I’m forced to work quickly and the colors have to be spot on.”
Adding to the complexity is the structure of the deflated balloon itself. A sphere, the balloon doesn't lie flat and the substrate doesn't stretch, requiring Mr. Price to paint over hills and valleys while maintaining the proper perspective.
Although today he teaches at the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts in Galax, Va., Mr. Price is no stranger to large format painting. From 1986 to 1992, he lived in Rochester, N.Y., painting billboard pictorials across the region prior to the advent of vinyl wraps.
He maintains another connection to armed conflicts in our nation’s past, having designed the 3,600 square foot Blue Ridge Veterans Memorial, which is currently under construction.
Painting of the Intrepid is expected to be completed by early June, after which GCV&M will take delivery of the balloon. Construction of a companion Civil War encampment has begun, bringing an added dimension of realism to Museum guests.
First announced this past February, the Intrepid project has captured the imagination of families, educators, historians and aviation enthusiasts across North America. In addition, renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and adventure balloonist and Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson have both praised the historic reconstruction.
A team of prominent advisors is assisting with the project, including Tom D. Crouch, Ph.D., senior curator of Aeronautics for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum; Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and Rob Shenk, director, Internet Strategy & Development, Civil War Trust.
For more information and photos, visit www.gcv.org.