The Gift of Art

A recent donation by Michael and Maureen Harrigan helps the Museum fulfill its mission.

(Painting by Robert Taylor)

Visit the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and you’re guaranteed to see historic aircraft and spacecraft, from the original Wright 1903 Flyer to the Space Shuttle Enterprise. The Museum also boasts a multitude of artifacts large and small: engines, propellers, aerial cameras, more than 2 million technical drawings—even popular culture items such as Charles Lindbergh-emblazoned underwear.

At the time of the Museum's creation, Congress also mandated that one gallery be specifically dedicated to aerospace artwork. Recently Michael and Maureen Harrigan, of Kendall, New York, gave the Museum 42 prints by renowned aviation artist Robert Taylor, a collection acquired over some 20 years.

When Mike Harrigan’s firm, the Harrigan Brady Paper Company, moved to its new location in 1988, Harrigan asked his (mostly female) staff for suggestions on how to fill the empty wall space. “They wanted paintings of daisies,” he said, somewhat mournfully. Because of the company’s proximity to the Greater Rochester International Airport, Harrigan suggested an alternative: pictures of airplanes.

The first Taylor print that Harrigan acquired was titled Home at Dusk, which depicts four P-51 Mustangs crossing the East Anglican coast on their way back to base. Harrigan’s interest in aviation art grew from there; he eventually collected so many of Taylor’s prints that his staff took to calling him “Imelda Marcos.” When he ran out of available wall space, Harrigan wasn’t deterred in the least—he hung the remaining prints in the men’s room.

Harrigan’s art collection began to gain a bit of fame in the Rochester area, with customers, postal carriers, and the random citizen showing up during work hours asking for a tour. Visitors were so frequent that “the girls suggested I start charging a fee, and we could have a party with the money,” joked Harrigan.

As senior aeronautics curator Tom Crouch writes in our March 2010 issue, “Someone once asked Mike if he would ever part with the collection. His answer: ‘Well, if the Smithsonian walked in, I’d have to consider it.’ To make a long story short, we did, and he did.”

When the Smithsonian crew came to package the collection for transport, Harrigan had one request: to wrap up Home at Dusk first, and to box up the final print he acquired, last. “There was a tear in my eye,” Harrigan said, as he watched the crew package his collection, piece by piece. “All of the girls were crying. They knew how much those prints meant to me.”

Part of the Harrigans’ collecton can currently be seen on the lower level of the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Once the new restoration wing is completed, in 2011, the collection will be displayed in its entirety. Click on the images below to take a closer look at a few prints from the collection.

The painting shown above, Morning Thunder, includes a note from the artist, Robert Taylor: “Sunday, December 7, 1941. Having taken six torpedo hits and two bomb strikes in the first-wave attack on Battleship Row, the West Virginia is ablaze, her bows already low in the water and decks awash. Ignoring the risk, crews push the Navy tug Hoga alongside with fire-fighting equipment and to pick up survivors. Overhead, Japanese Zeros swoop through the smoke, aiming the second-wave attack at installations on Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island, to complete one of history’s most devastating unprovoked declarations of war.”

Fortress Under Attack

(Robert Taylor)

In Taylor’s Fortress Under Attack, 22nd Bomb Group B-17s are under attack by Mitsubishi Zero fighters over Rabaul, on November 1942.

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