The Art of a Moonwalker

Alan Bean’s moonscapes show what photographs can’t.

Alan Bean, former lunar module pilot of Apollo 12 and commander of a 59-day Skylab mission, at home in Houston, Texas, in his light-filled studio. Carolyn Russo

From the day he entered flight training, Alan Bean thought he had the best job in the world — “until I looked on the TV one day and Al Shepard goes up in a rocket,” he recalled in the 2007 documentary In the Shadow of the Moon. “He’s gone higher than I’ve ever gone, and faster than I’ve ever gone, and most important, he’s made more noise doing it. How do I get that job?” Bean did get the job, and on November 19, 1969, he became the fourth man to walk on the moon. He and Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad stayed on the lunar surface for more than a day, 10 hours more than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Bean would go on to command the second mission of the space station Skylab, eventually logging more than 1,670 hours in space.

In 1981, after 18 years as an astronaut, Bean retired to paint full-time. His subject of choice has been the Apollo program, and in honor of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, Smithsonian Books and the National Air and Space Museum present a new book and exhibition of his work: Alan Bean: Painting Apollo, First Artist on Another World. The exhibition will run through January 13, 2010.


Photograph of Alan Bean taken in his home studio, October 2008. Carolyn Russo/Smithsonian Institute
Using the rock hammer he took to the moon, Bean scrapes textured surfaces into his paintings, below, a technique he began using in 1999. Eric Long/NASM
The landing site of Apollo 15, the Hadley Rille gorge stretches for some 70 miles. In Bean’s 1996 painting Hadley Rille, Dave Scott (left) and Jim Irwin collect rocks for geologists interested in the rille’s possibly volcanic origins. Alan Bean
In Flight, 1990. While on the moon, Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard used a makeshift six-iron to take golf to new heights. Alan Bean
Beyond a Young Boy’s Dream, 1989. As a child, Bean blanketed the ceiling of his bedroom with balsawood models. “Airplanes were the last things I would see before falling asleep at night,” he recalls. Alan Bean

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