Artist's illustrations for General Electric made students armchair space travelers

Artist's illustrations for General Electric made students armchair space travelers

July 19th, 2019 by Lisa Denton in Life Entertainment
General Electric Progress Poster by John Gould, published April 15, 1960 / Image from Robert Gould from the John Fleming Gould Collection at Syracuse University

General Electric Progress Poster by John Gould, published May 15, 1962 / Image from Robert Gould from the John Fleming Gould Collection at Syracuse University

General Electric Progress Poster by John Gould, published...

John Gould never worked for NASA, but his illustrations for General Electric helped acquaint students with the developments in America's burgeoning space program.

From 1957 to 1965, Gould created a series of illustrations, called Progress Posters, that were distributed bimonthly to schools and colleges nationwide. Each poster included explanatory text about the latest scientific advancement, accompanied by Gould's drawings showing the practical applications.

One from April 15, 1960, explained how a new guidance system developed by GE scientists would offer stability in space.

General Electric Progress Poster by John Gould, published Feb. 15, 1963 / Image from Robert Gould from the John Fleming Gould Collection at Syracuse University

General Electric Progress Poster by John Gould, published...

One from Feb. 15, 1963, touted the fuel cell battery that would power the Gemini spacecraft.

One from Oct. 1, 1963, explained how emergency repairs would be made in outer space.

"He did eight years of school and college posters," says his son, Robert Gould, who lives in Chattanooga. "Most of this was leading up to the research and development of the Apollo mission."

John Fleming Gould (1906-1996) was an American painter, illustrator and art instructor born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and later taught there for 22 years. He and his wife, Mary, established the Bethlehem Art Gallery in Cornwall, New York, in 1957.

General Electric Progress Poster by John Gould, published Oct. 1, 1963. / Image from Robert Gould from the John Fleming Gould Collection at Syracuse University

General Electric Progress Poster by John Gould, published...

Gould's illustrations appeared in national publications, including the Saturday Evening Post, as well as numerous pulp publications such as Adventure Trails, Dime Detective Magazine and War Birds. In his later years, he often painted historical subjects and Hudson River Valley landscapes for his fine art.

"He and Norman Rockwell were contemporaries" at the Saturday Evening Post, says Robert Gould. "Rockwell was doing the covers, and my father was one of the major interior artists [illustrating stories]. Writers were very complimentary to my father. He saved a lot of letters that were sent to him after articles were published that said, 'You got that picture just right.' They were very commendable to him."

For more than 20 years, the elder Gould was an art consultant for GE's Locomotive Division, producing hundreds of illustrations for corporate publications and advertising. The space work spun off of that.

Though often associated with light bulbs and home appliances, General Electric has been a multifaceted conglomerate since its founding in 1892. The company was deeply invested in America's space program. All manned flights through Apollo relied on GE radio command guidance equipment, and the Space Division supplied overall quality control, systems engineering support, checkout equipment, Saturn launch vehicle test facilities and the ship-to-satellite system that provided the first live color TV pictures of splashdown and recovery, says Robert Gould.

"When Neil Armstrong took that historic first step on the moon in 1969, it was with boots made from GE silicone rubber," he says. "In all, 37 different GE operations were involved in the mission."

The original Progress Posters, most of them measuring 16 by 20 inches or 20-by-24, are included in a collection of the artist's work at Syracuse University in New York. Even in black-and-white, the posters are compelling.

Gould says that after his father received information about what the monthly poster topic would be, he would gather reference materials, find models (often Robert and his brothers), photograph the scenes he needed to convey in the illustration and even develop his own film before he began sketching.

"He had quite a talent for putting something into a black-and-white tone that had a lot of action to it," says Gould. "In some of these pictures, there's a lot of movement involved. He was able to portray that. There's a lot of shadow in this type of art, and he was so expert in it."

A poster introducing GE's "Six New Silicone Values" (May 15, 1962) contained six captioned art panels, each depicting an everyday use for this "family of man-made chemicals." Gould's illustrations included a football player, whose custom-fitted mouthpiece was made with a new technology, and a woman washing a car, showcasing the properties of a new protective ingredient for lotions and hand creams that could withstand soapy water and detergents.

Gould says one of his father's "most amazing" talents was the ability to envision what outer space looked like.

"It graphically portrays what is going on in outer space even before we had been up there," Gould says. "It's fascinating to look at."

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.