Relative's letters inspire woman's donation of artwork to Air Force Art Program

  • Published
  • By Monica D. Morales
  • Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs
The pen strokes of a long-lost relative's letter inspired the brushstrokes of one Air Force Materiel Command woman who donated two works of original art to the Air Force Art Program's exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

Elaine Balsley, an SAIC contractor and management analyst in the AFMC Logistics Directorate's Maintenance Division, donated a graphite sketch and acrylic painting that debuted Oct. 23 as part of the biannual exhibit hosted this year at the museum. This is the second time in two years Ms. Balsley has made a donation to the service's collection.

"Artwork is donated to the art program by several artists across the country and is all very impressive," Ms. Balsley said. "It's an honor to be among those artists.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Air Force Art Program, which began in 1950 with the transfer from the United States Army of some 800 works of art documenting the early days of the Army Air Corps. In the following years, the newly formed Air Force sponsored a tour of Air Force installations for 30 cartoonists, and in 1952, sponsored 30 artists from the New York Society of Illustrators.

Since its inception, the art collection has acquired approximately 10,000 works of donated art. As a tribute to the artists of the collection's most recent works, every even-numbered year the Air Force hosts a formal presentation to unveil and exhibit artists' donations.

Family of artists

Drawing on inspiration from her own family, one of Ms. Balsley's donations to the program includes a graphite sketch of a relative she's never met.
Her uncle, William James McQuoid Jr., had been accepted to Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh -- now Carnegie Mellon University -- during the 1940s to study fine arts. He left college to join the Army Air Corps as a B-17 Flying Fortress tail gunner. He was killed on a mission over Zwickau, Germany, in 1944.

Though Ms. Balsley never met her uncle, her connection to him was made by way of the letters he sent back to his sisters, one of which expressed his desire to be an artist just like the two of them.

For Ms. Balsley, maintaining this familial talent feels like an extension of her uncle's love of art.

"Donating the sketch of Uncle Billy will honor his memory and let others know the sacrifice he made for his country," she said. "He wanted to be an artist, and it's something he mentioned often in his letters. I got to know him through those letters."

The second donated piece, a 24-by-48-inch acrylic painting of the AFMC headquarters building, includes the hallmark static displays of an F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon and main flagpoles. Ms. Balsley's love of aircraft is reflected in her addition of a C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster flying overhead.

What began as an empty canvas took five months of work -- from pastel sketching to under-painting and then layers of brushstrokes -- and demanded perfecting even as fine a detail as ensuring the number of windows and types of landscaped foliage was correct.

"I started this painting in March, and had it finished by the first of August," she said. "I allowed myself a fair amount of time to complete (the painting) because of all the detail and the size of the canvas."

Adding to the collection

After submitting the proposals for her pieces and completing the accompanying paperwork, she shipped both pieces to the art program at the end of August.

Ms. Balsley's first introduction to the art program came unknowingly about six years ago, when she first began working at Wright-Patterson and noticed walls adorned with military-related art. Eventually, an e-mail message about submitting works to the service's art collection crossed her path and piqued her interest.

"I asked some questions, and found out what I needed to do," she said. "And in 2008, I asked if I could donate one of my existing paintings, and it was accepted into the program."

Her 2008 submission of 'Seversky P-35 Pursuit Plane'; an acrylic painting of the aircraft's cowling and portions of its propellers, was based off a photo taken from an aircraft at the Air Force Museum.

Just recently, Ms. Balsley learned by word-of-mouth that this painting hangs in the lobby of the Air Force Security Assistance Center, located here.

"Any donated paintings, from a choice of hundreds, may be requested [for display] by any major command," she said. "I didn't think my painting had been requested. I'm so pleased."

Artistic endeavors

Ms. Balsley's artistry reaches far beyond the Wright-Patterson AFB area, though. When not working on a piece to be donated for the Air Force's Art Program, she paints a variety of subjects, from floral to portraits and abstracts, as part of her Dayton Oregon District art gallery, called Elaine Balsley - Fine Art.

She also maintains memberships with the Dayton Visual Arts Center; the National Oil and Acrylic Painters' Society, in Osage Beach, Mo.; the Worthington Area Art League, Worthington, Ohio; and the Brush & Palette Art Guild, in Hillsboro, Ohio.

Though a few months have passed since Ms. Balsley last saw her art program donations, viewing them as part of the museum exhibit will be the first time she'll view the artwork with its finished details -- fully framed and hanging with an artist's placard by their side.

"It's so exciting and such an honor -- that's the only way I can think to describe it," she said. "It's just one of those 'ah-ha' moments."

Ms. Balsley's work, along with the other donated artwork of the Air Force Art Program exhibit, may be viewed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force through mid-January 2011 during the museum's regular hours of operation.

For more information about the museum or the exhibit, visit

Additional information about the Air Force Art Program may be found at