Saturday, July 19, 2014

69. July 20, 1969 - A Day I'll Always Remember

National Pride; oil on panel; 18 x 24
Few dates stand out in my life as much as the Apollo 11 moon landing, 45 years ago tomorrow. I have always been a close follower and enthusiast of space exploration and I was totally absorbed by not only the Apollo program, but every space launch and advancement through the Mercury and Gemini programs. I had been waiting for this day for most of my 13 years of life.

The landing itself took place on the afternoon of July 20, 1969. The networks showed cartoons or models of the lunar lander (called “Eagle”) nearing the moon’s surface while we all listened to the voices of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and mission control. It was 3:17pm (Central Standard Time) when they safely landed and we all heard “Tranquility Base here...the Eagle has landed.” My parents, brother and sister and I had all been watching the TV. My father pointed out to me that my palms were all wet and sweaty from the tension of following the landing. I stepped outside to relax and work off the excess energy and excitement. I saw traffic on the road in front of our house and I could not believe that these people were so oblivious to the historic event that had just happened. “Where did these people need to go that was so important that they would miss such an historic event?” I asked myself. 

The Bickers Family on July 20, 1969.
Later that night, the astronauts came out of their spacecraft for the moonwalk.  It was Sunday night and our family gathered around the TV. My father took pictures of the TV screen and also had us all pose by the TV set. Later, we even threw a mattress into the den and stayed up late watching the news coverage. Then we saw the ghostly images, bright lights and shadows, pictures that were sometimes transparent, reflections, and grainy black and white. Yet it was odd the way the people bounced across the surface of the moon with such ease. You could clearly see the moon dust and dirt being kicked up and moved about, yet there were no clouds of dust in the vacuum at all. I could clearly see clods of soil and small rocks kicked and then falling away in a perfect arc in a way that was very strange and other-worldly. The flag hung on a horizontal metal rod. It never rippled. It shook when someone touched it. It was made of nylon and likely decayed very quickly a few weeks later in the solar heat. According to Buzz Aldrin, it fell over during their lift-off from the rocket exhaust. 

Awestruck; oil on panel; 24 x 18
I will say this now --the notion that all of this might be faked never entered my head. There is plenty of evidence (fully described elsewhere) that the moon landing was authentic and every argument I have ever heard that it was not real has been rooted in ignorance and a lack of understanding of physics and the laws of nature. 
Then President Nixon called, which everyone could have done without. Commentators openly wondered if the astronauts would really go back inside when told to. Walter Cronkite added, “Who would stop them?” 

Cronkite also commented that this event was so historic that the calendar itself might be calibrated against it in the future with the years divided between “before moon” or BM and “after moon” or AM. Having been born in 13 BM didn’t sound too dignified and the current date of 45 AM sounds a bit confusing in the morning. Still... it is hard to fully describe what a transition this event represented in how we viewed the moon. The moon was always a bright round circle in the sky that changed shape and colors. Most of the time it didn’t even appear three-dimensional. It had an almost abstract quality to it. The moon was the very symbol of all things that were beyond our grasp. Things that were unreachable, unknowable. As thus, it also represented the future, perhaps mankind’s far future. Reaching it was something that would happen someday, when the future arrived, but not in our lifetimes. All of that changed that night. From then on due to this mission and the others that followed, the moon was less abstract and more real to me. It was an actual place, a fascinating and wonderful place that I found both interesting and beautiful. And as we explored even more rugged and varied terrain, it became even a magical place to me, so unlike Earth in its stark contrast.
I think the moon is still a fascinating and beautiful place that has many secrets to reveal.  We have barely scratched the surface in exploring it and none of the moon landings were at the most interesting locations there.  I hope someday we will go back in force and establish a moon base - something similar to what we have at the South Pole.  Later, maybe in this century, I envision many more people visiting the moon and conducting all kinds of scientific research there with a sizable permanent city.  I had hoped we would have done this by 2014, but it may be the Chinese who will populate and explore the moon while we sit at home and watch whatever images they choose to share with us.  I hope I am wrong.

I told my story to Alan Boyle, science writer at MSNBC back on the 40th Anniversary of the moon landing.  An excerpt of that article is at left (click to enlarge).

In 2009 I also gave a presentation at my art show of paintings and photographs commemorating the Apollo 11 mission. A copy of my show's poster is at right. A transcript of my presentation can be found in my Blog Post No. 6.  Other relevant blogs on the subject include my Posts No. 3, 4, 5, 7 and 15. Some of the images from the 2009 show can be found at my website here.

I am currently working on more art of the Apollo missions and expect to organize another art show to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing in July, 2019.  Announcements about that show will be posted on this blog and on my website at http://www.

Monday, March 31, 2014

68. Ice Flow - Digital Photograph

Ice Flow - digital photograph by Bob Bickers
It has been a very long winter here in Pennsylvania, but one benefit is that I have been able to take many more photos of winter scenes, many of which I will turn into oil paintings.  I'll post them here as I do.  This image caught my eye mainly because of the colorful grass and the color and texture of the ice that leads your eye to the white bark birch trees. Subtle color and good composition can turn even an ordinary winter scene into a work of art. I do plan to create some variation of this image as an oil painting.

Friday, February 28, 2014

67. Intellectual Honesty - Digital Photograph

Intellectual Honesty - digital photograph by Bob Bickers
I turned 58 years old earlier this month and I have decided that from now on I will create and post a self-portrait on each birthday, if for no other reason than to keep up my skills.  Self portraits have a long history in the art world and most artists find some advantage in painting them.  For one, the model is cheap and rarely complains.  He is always available when the artist is, and is often open to artistic interpretation.

Here is a version of me that I had fun doing.  In the future I plan to do more work in oils and acrylics and less with digital photographs --unless I get an idea I just can't shake.  If I do, you will see it here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

66. Afternoon Shadows on the VIrgin River - Photograph

Afternoon Shadows on the Virgin River - by Bob Bickers
Afternoon Shadows on the Virgin River
This was taken at Zion National Park in Utah.  A truly magical place and I have many more images to share in the weeks and months ahead.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

65. 2013...It Was A Very Long Year...

Blue Heron by Bob Bickers
Blue Heron on the Conemaugh RIver Lake
It has been a very long year indeed.  My extended absence has been due to a number of factors including the death of my father-in-law, the upkeep and repairs to his house and estate, the remodeling of my own office and other things which kept me from this blog and my studio.  This was a year when I used much more house paint that oil paint.

On the other hand, I have taken a number of trips to some pretty exciting places in Utah, Nevada and Arizona and have taken tens of thousands of photos, some of which wil make good reference photos for future paintings and many of which make outstanding images in their own right.  I have only begun to dig into this digital gold mine.

Also exciting is the two kayaks I bought which now allows me much greater access to wilderness areas and wildlife.  I expect to be using these tools much more in my artwork this next year and beyond.

The new year holds much promise.  I come into it leaner, better equipped and eager to produce much more art.  I have several projects under way right now, including the designing of a book cover.  I can't wait for the year ahead to begin!     --Bob Bickers
Bob Bickers at Conemaugh River Lake
Kayaking under a bridge on the Conemaugh River Lake in Pennsylvania

Monday, October 29, 2012

64. A Fascinating e-Book: An Eagle's Sky, My Life as a Birdman, by John Stokes

John Stokes launches his first hang glider in 1975.
In 1975 I was a college student in Memphis, Tennessee.  One of my best friends was John Stokes.  We spent about a decade together in the Boy Scouts (Troop 301 - Chickasaw Council) in a troop that camped every first weekend of every month, regardless of the weather. Add all the summer camps, 50 mile hikes and 50 mile boat trips, and other outings, I calculated we spent about a full year living in the wilderness - almost a tenth of our teen-age years!  John and I eventually became Eagle Scouts and had many adventures until we started to drift apart late in college.

One project that caught John's imagination was the new sport of hang gliding.  He built his own and as he started to try his wings, I sometimes came along to photograph the results. I was very much into photography by then and documenting this unique sight only seemed natural.  Soon the tall hills gave way to larger slopes and eventually to John jumping off of cliffs in his quest to fly with the birds. I took the two photographs shown here in 1975 as John just began to hone his flying skills.  Click on the images to enlarge.

John takes flight - 1975.
John was always interested in birds and raptors in particular, so it was no surprise to me that he later got a job with the Memphis Zoo working with the birds.  Once, John gave me the privilege of being allowed inside the giant enclosure where the Bald Eagles were kept and slowly and carefully approach one of their specimens.  In the early 1990's I saw John again at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN where he was doing a show for the public introducing them to eagles, hawks and other birds of prey.

I shouldn't have been surprised, then, to learn that John had combined his love of eagles with his passion for gliding.  A December, 1997 article in Reader's Digest (The Bravest Eagle, by Kristin von Kreisler) tells the remarkable story of how John helped rehabilitate a young Bald Eagle that had been shot near Osceola, Arkansas, but had his wing amputated.  The eagle, now named Osceola, would never fly again until John found a way to put the disabled bird into a harness and attach him to his hang glider where the two of them soared over the hills and meadows of eastern Tennessee.  The full story of Osceola and the amazing video of his flight can be found here.  One video and then another video have appeared on YouTube.  The story appeared on Good Morning America on October 21, 1996 and the American Eagle Foundation also has the story here.

Now John has published an e-book, An Eagle's Sky, My Life as a Birdman.  It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the events of John's life that eventually led to his partnership with Osceola and the making of what I consider a minor modern-day legend.  Yes, yours truly is briefly mentioned in the book, but it is still worthwhile reading nonetheless. Images related to John and his book are being posted at this blog.

John Stokes, along with his wife, Dale, now works for Save Our American Raptors - South (S.O.A.R. South) rehabilitating raptors and educating the public.  To follow John's current schedule, check out his blog for S.O.A.R.-South.  I might as well include his Facebook page while I am at it: Osceola An Eagle's Sky.

It's satisfying to see John getting some recognition for the fine work he does.  Now if I can just get Reader's Digest interested in a little artwork...!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

63. Red Rock Canyon Road - 2010 - Photograph

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
This is one photograph I took a couple of years ago at Red Rock canyon outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.  A cloud had started to shade the left side of the photo, but you can see where the park got it's name.  It was the middle of winter back in 2010 when I last there, but I hope to see it again in all it's fiery summer desert splendor soon.  Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

62. ESAL Art Show at The Gallery Space, June 2-30, 2012

Painting the Logo , 9 x 12; oil on gessoboard, 2012
The East Suburban Artists League will present an exhibition of members’ artwork at The Gallery Space in the Monroeville Public Library June 2 - 30, 2012.  The public is invited to attend the Opening Reception at the gallery 7 - 9pm on Saturday, June 2nd where you can view the varied artwork, enjoy refreshments and meet many of the artists themselves.

Most of the artwork will be available for sale.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit the non-profit group, Friends of the Monroeville Public Library.

The East Suburban Artists League is a non-profit association of artists from communities in Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties east of Pittsburgh.  Members include adult artists of all ages who work in all types of media, styles and techniques.  They meet to foster arts and crafts and to educate, inspire and encourage artists and patrons throughout this area.  This is done by lectures, forums, panels and critiques and by League sponsored shows, displays and juried exhibitions.
ESAL meetings are held from September through May, the first Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m. in the lower level of Christ Lutheran Church on Route 286 at Logans Ferry Road (in Northern Murrysville) and are highlighted by an informative speaker and/or arts and crafts demonstration by an area artist or expert in their artistic field.  Members are also encouraged to bring and show their own artwork to the group.  The meetings are open to the public and visitors are welcome.

Those interested in joining the East Suburban Artists League may contact ESAL’s current Membership Chairman, Bob McAfoos at 412-731-8637 or attend one of their meetings.

The Monroeville Public Library’s Gallery Space is located at 4000 Gateway Campus Boulevard, off of Mosside Boulevard, in the Gateway School Complex. During the show, the Gallery will be open Monday-Thursday, 9AM-9PM, Friday and Saturday, 9AM-5PM and closed on Sundays.  More on The Gallery Space can be found on their website:

The artwork depicted above was a painting I threw together to illustrate the postcard publicizing the exhibition.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

61. Of Stones and Metal - 2012 - Photograph

Of Stones and Metal by Bob Bickers, 2012, photograph
I was walking a trail along a stream last Sunday in Youngwood, PA (just south of Greensburg) when I noted a hatch or manhole cover in the streambed and thought this was just unusual enough to capture a photo.  Click on the image to enlarge.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

60. Duff Park Winter - 2011 - Photograph

Duff Park Winter by Bob Bickers, 2011, photograph
This photograph just won 3rd Place in Landscapes and Scenery in the 2011 Murrysville Photo Contest sponsored by the Murrysville Parks & Recreation Commission.  I will be receiving my award for this contest at a meeting of the commission on April 17, 2012.  Updates on the Murrysville Photo Contest including rules and information for the 2012 Contest can be found at and photos that have been submitted in this and prior contests can be found at .