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Artist got his start painting designs on WWII aircraft

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Written by TED ROELOFS, The Grand Rapids Press   
Monday, 07 May 2012 10:15

World War II aircraft were often decorated with art by talented members of the crew. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) – Even in the service, Army Air Corps veteran Robert Bailey somehow found time for art as he painted designs on the noses of World War II aircraft.

Some 70 years later, the resident of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is still at it with an exhibit of his work that recently opened at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. It will remain on exhibit, among pieces from several other artists living in the home, until Sept. 4.

Victoria Marnich-Reynolds, 60, an art teacher at the home, has grown to appreciate both the artist and his passion as she watches him carry on what has been a lifetime mission.

“He is sort of a living legend that nobody knows about,” Marnich-Reynolds said. “He had national acclaim at one point. It's kind of like he outgrew all his contemporaries.”

Indeed, Bailey, 88, made clear some years ago just where art stood among his priorities as he told a reporter: “If you're in the arts, you can't be married. Art is much more important than family.”

Bailey's eclectic work was most recently on display in 2008 at Eastern Michigan University, when its Ford Gallery featured a retrospective of his drawings, paintings, computer art, lithography and ceramic painting, along with articles and photographs.

For this Kansas native, there was much to draw upon.

Bailey served from 1943 to 1946 in the Army Air Corps, first as a belly gunner and then as a mechanic.

Following the war, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago and built a reputation in that city for photography and sculpture as well as active promotion of the arts scene. In the 1950s, he helped build the gallery for the Chicago Society of Artists. Over the years, his works were exhibited in galleries and public spaces throughout Chicago as well as the East Coast and in Michigan.

He traveled to Mexico in the late 1950s with a grant from the Mexican government to photograph Mayan children, villages and schools. The images were displayed in a photographic exhibition in Mexico City.

Bailey in 1972 moved to Dexter, outside Ann Arbor, where he lived until moving into the veterans home about eight years ago. A series of strokes diminished, but could not halt, his artistic output.

A niece of Bailey, Indiana resident Wendee Bailey, 58, said her uncle always found ways to support himself—working as a crane operator and later as groundskeeper and caregiver at a home for the mentally impaired—so that he could pursue his art.

“That's always what he lived for, to put his ideas on canvas, to share his ideas with everybody around. I think it means a lot to him to get out there one more time.”

Bailey uses a wheelchair now.

Art teacher Marnich-Reynolds says he is still exploring new ways to express himself. She can only hope to remain as productive as an artist herself.

“He still works with a computer, with computer-aided designs. He transfers the concepts with a pen or pencil to ceramics and takes dishes or large bowls and draws his designs on them.

“It is inspiring. It's a demonstration how a person must create. He will do it until his last breath, I'm sure.”


Information from: The Grand Rapids Press,

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-05-04-12 0936GMT


World War II aircraft were often decorated with art by talented members of the crew. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 

Last Updated on Monday, 07 May 2012 10:59

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