Reviewed by Arthur H. Sanfelici
By Charlie and Ann Cooper
MBI Publishing, St. Paul, Minn., 2003
You’ve often seen paintings by Jack Fellows in the pages of this magazine. I see one of them every day — a print of his Squirlbate hangs on my office wall, depicting Lieutenant Dick Vodra in his Curtiss P-40 flaming a Japanese Zero that was on the tail of another P-40. My print was signed by Vodra himself when we met to discuss his article about that event and his wartime activities in New Guinea (Aviation History, January 1995).
I always enjoy looking at a Fellows painting whenever I see one used as an illustration in Aviation History or elsewhere, although I somehow missed many of them and just lost track of others. But now that War in Pacific Skies: The Aviation Art of Jack Fellows has been published, I have them all — all, that is, up to the time of printing of this hefty coffee-table book that provides not only a graphic portrayal of World War II in the Pacific but also the textual background to the paintings and the general war itself. It is not just a pretty picture book, it is a history book that has great illustrations.
Although his excellent credentials include serving as a former president and an Artist Fellow member of the American Society of Aviation Artists, Fellows’ paintings speak for themselves. I personally like realistic portrayals of aviation action, and Fellows always comes through in spades. His action is exciting, and his research is detailed. His style — sometimes photographic, sometimes bold with visible brush strokes — dazzles you at every page of this book.
There are not only paintings here but also lots of wartime photographs and plenty of entertaining and informative text. War in the Skies is more than just a page-through ooh and aah publication. After the first admiring round, it can provide several more hours of absorbing reading.
War in Pacific Skies begins not with a military action scene but a seemingly straight- forward painting of a Lockheed Electra flying alone — and about to run out of fuel — over the Pacific Ocean, carrying Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan. Fellows titled his painting Lost! Although Earhart and Noonan were attempting to achieve the first around-the-world flight at the equator, some have contended that they were also engaged in a mission of espionage against the Japanese, who were then setting the stage for the Pacific campaign that would eventually pull the United States into a war. Beginning with that single poignant image, Fellows’ volume is history and graphic excitement at its best.
In the book’s foreword, Walter J. Boyne — retired U.S. Air Force colonel, former director of the National Air and Space Museum and founding member of Aviation History‘s editorial advisory board — states, “just as a good book lets you read through it easily but lures you back to study and savor the more meaningful passages, so does Jack Fellows’ art compel you to study the paintings, to get all of the meaning implicit in the markings, in the methods of attack, in the angle of the sun and the chop of the water. This is a wonderful book, one that inspires and educates and makes you wish for more.”