Aviation ArtistEnshrined 2012 1929 -
Keith Ferris was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on May 14, 1929, to Lt. Carlisle I. Ferris and Virginia Brecht Ferris stationed on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Six months later the Ferris’ were transferred to the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas where the family grew to include twin daughters and another son.
While his father taught men to fly combat aircraft for six years, by the age of four, Keith was visiting the flight line across the street from their quarters, quizzing the crews of visiting aircraft as to aircraft type and home base. By the age of five Keith was drawing the airplanes he had seen to show his father what he had missed while he was on flying missions.
Following his father’s 1936 Air Corps Tactical School and 1937 Army Command and General Staff College graduations, his family moved to March Field in California. It was here on his tenth birthday that Keith experienced his first flight in his dad’s assigned Douglas B-18.
Keith entered Texas A&M in 1946 with the goal of earning an aeronautical engineering degree, an Air Force commission, and a career as an Air Force pilot. In 1947 Keith took a summer job with the Training Publications Unit at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. His drawing board was located in a World War II barracks on the flight line when the base celebrated “Air Force Day” with an open house on August 1st. It was there that Keith had his first encounter with jet aircraft – an experience that was to change his life.
Now sorely wanting to fly jets, he paid a visit to an old family friend, a flight surgeon with the School of Aviation Medicine. Could he pass the physical for flight training? The physician informed Keith that his allergy to egg protein and tetanus antitoxin would prevent his Air Force service. He suddenly found himself “drafted”… into civilian life.
Keith decided that he would live his dream through art. He spent another semester at A&M in Aeronautical Engineering before attending George Washington University and Corcoran College of Art in Washington, D.C. to learn anatomy and figure drawing.
In 1951, at the age of 22, he moved to St. Louis, first to work with Universal Printing Company, and then with the prestigious Cassell Watkins Paul Art Studio, both firms having Air Force Publications contracts. Being steeped in Air Force terminology, he was put in charge of the studio’s Air Force contracts, acting as a liaison between the studio and the military. Keith felt right at home, producing artwork for the next five years for training and nuclear weapons manuals.
In 1953 he married Peggy Todd, soon welcoming their daughter, Nancy, and son Todd.
When in 1956 the Air Force closed its publications unit in St. Louis, Keith packed up his family and, moving to the New York area, became a freelance artist serving the aerospace industry’s airframe, engine and avionics manufacturers, their advertising agencies, public relations firms, aerospace museums and the military.
In 1960 he was invited to join the prestigious Society of Illustrators where he discovered the society’s Air Force Art Program. The Air Force Art program has allowed Keith to fly while participating in the Air Force mission throughout the world for over fifty years, offering him the opportunity to actually fly the jets he loves so much.
He flew combat missions in both Southeast Asia and Bosnia. In return Keith has donated 62 of his original paintings to the Air Force Art Collection as well as several others to the Navy, Marines and the Coast Guard. His award winning artwork has been widely published and originals displayed in the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of the USAF, among many other museums.
As an inventor of aircraft camouflage and high visibility paint schemes, Keith holds five U.S. patents and four foreign patents. Many of the current Air Force, Navy and foreign aircraft include his high and low visibility paint systems.
Keith is founder and past president of the American Society of Aviation Artists, which for 26 years has conducted annual international educational aviation art forums and shows for artists. Through educating and mentoring others, and visually documenting flight, Keith believes he has found a way to serve his country after all.
The National Aviation Hall of Fame is honored to welcome this distinguished artist, historian, aviator, inventor, and teacher – the “Dean of American Aviation Art” – Keith Ferris.