First flight: an artist’s view

 - February 4, 2008, 9:48 AM

Marsha Mills was not an aviation artist, but as the exclusive artist for the First Flight Centennial Foundation, she’s quickly becoming one. What caught the foundation’s attention was her 1987 watercolor rendering of the Wright Brothers National Monument on top of the Big Hill at Kill Devil Hills, N.C., the place where Orville and Wilbur chose to experiment with their manned and unmanned gliders and eventually made the first manned flight in a powered aircraft on Dec. 17, 1903.

A native of North Carolina, Mills was asked by the National Academy of Arts to submit her painting, the Wright Monument, in a 1998 national contest. The painting ended up being chosen as one of the top 20 out of 2,300 entries. After a short tour around the country, it was brought to Washington, D.C., where it hung in the Capitol Building office of North Carolina House Rep. Martin Lancaster for one year.

The First Flight Centennial Foundation recently selected Wright Monument as the first painting of its First Flight Centennial Watercolor Collection and commissioned Mills to complete three more paintings in the series. Five aviation historians have been working with the artist to ensure the authenticity of these renderings. The second painting, completed by Mills just a couple of months ago and titled Airborne, depicts the moment of the first flight from a frog’s-eye view 10 feet in the front of the rail on which the Wright airplane slid before taking off. The third watercolor, The Coin Toss, will depict the Dec. 14, 1903, coin toss by Orville and Wilbur to decide who would fly first, and show much of their camp at Kill Devil Hills. The fourth painting, Past, Present, Future, will be a bird’s-eye view showing the first powered flight at the base of the painting, a view of the monument and then blend into space.

Numbered prints of the four paintings will be produced in four sizes, costing from $144 to $480 (unframed) and $400 to $1,076 (framed), and may now be ordered. Only 1,000 copies of each print size (4,000 total of each painting) will be produced. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of the prints will go to the First Flight Centennial Foundation to help fund its objectives, including improvements to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. For more information, see Marsha Mills’ Web site,