Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Story of a Painting

I was instantly mesmerized by this beautiful painting by Bill Phillips. Not only are the P-47s and the B-17 Pistol Packin' Mama presented in realistic detail, but the ethereal background, with the sun's rays reaching from behing the clouds to reflect off the English Channel, shows the work of a man who loves not only planes, but all the elements of the earth as well. Note the White Cliffs of Dover in the distance, and how one of the plane's engines has been feathered. Bill's painting as it appears on my book. The painting has been turned into a wrap-around, with the left-hand side extending across the spine and onto the back of the book.

Anyone who has read my book knows that William Phillips' amazing painting 'When Prayers are Answered" is the cover art of the book. The story behind how this painting became the cover art is really pretty interesting.

In 2002, I flew to Boston to visit several men who flew B-17 bombers over Europe in World War Two. I was completely unknown in the field, had zero books to my credit, but the two vets, Gus Mencow and Maurice Rockett, graciously accepted me into their homes and shared their stories with me. While I was staying at the home of Gus Mencow in Worcester, Massachusetts, Gus showed me a print he'd framed and hung in a place of honor in his home. It was William Phillips' 'When Prayers are Answered' and it showed Gus's B-17 "Betty Boop/The Pistol Packin' Mama" coming home to the white cliffs of Dover after a mission. I immediately thought that the painting would be the ideal cover for my book.

Back in Idaho, I contacted the artist, William Phillips. Bill is one of the world's top aviation artists. His paintings sell for thousands, and his prints sell in the high hundreds. Coincidentally, Bill lived in the same town as my parents in Oregon. I told Bill I would love to use his painting, but that I would not be able to pay him very much. Bill graciously wrote back that as long as I sent him a signed copy of the book, he would let me use the painting for free. Remember, this was at a time when I had never published a book. It was strictly out of the goodness of his heart.

Well, the book has gone on to have four pressings to date, selling around 8,000 copies, and Bill's art has been on every one of the books. I think the art on the cover of a book is a big part of getting someone to pick up and consider buying the book, so I give lots of credit to Bill Phillips for his kindness many years ago. Bill, by the way, was the artist on a series of stamps released by the United States Postal Service a few years back--a series that was so successful that it sold out in a few months and is now highly collectible.

One of the best-selling postal releases in recent years, this series by William Phillips celebrated advances in American aviation.

The print of "When Prayers are Answered", signed by the crew, including Gus Mencow, sells these days for at least $600, but someday, I will have one hanging in a place of honor in my home, just like Gus Mencow did back so many years ago.

Gus is no longer on this earth, but his memory will never die as long as I'm around.


Chris said...

What an amazing story! As an avid aviator myself where can I purchase a copy of your book? I'm always looking for new aviation books to read, especially those that tell the herorics of the men and women who served over seas during World War 2. I am also big into aviation history so I like to read about all aspects of the history of flight.



r morris said...

Hi, Chris. I would be very happy to discuss my book and projects with you at any time. Feel free to email me. My book is available anywhere books are sold, pretty much, including the Potomac website and,, etc. Look forward to hearing from you, my friend.

Al Lambson said...

My Uncle "Delbert D. Lambson" was the ball turret gunner on the "Betty Boop, Pistol Packin Mama" when it shot down over Rhemes France. I have a picture of Him and His crew that was on board.

Albert L. Lambson.