By S. Clayton Moore
Some people see further than the rest of us. That’s the case with extraordinary aviation artist Rick Broome, who’s been turning his dreams into fantastic works of art for nearly half a century. Aviation enthusiasts worldwide have hailed his distinctive paintings.
At his pastoral home on Spring Lake in Colorado Springs, Broome is literally building his next dream from the ground up. Inspired by a recurring dream dating back to his days as a United Airlines flight line aircraft mechanic, he’s building a new 2,500-foot studio based around an actual Boeing 727. The plane was brought to his cul-de-sac in the Broadmoor area last summer with a massive crane, leading some passersby to believe a plane had crashed in the lake.
The galley door of the airplane will open into his small current studio, a 280-square-foot workspace. The artist has toiled here for more than 30 years, creating thousands of originals, prints and his patented “Starlite” paintings.
The 727’s first-class cabin will be transformed into a plush sitting room, following the interior design of the Boeing Business Jet. The remainder will be encased in glass to form the artist’s new studio space.
“I’ve had sketches of this studio for over 25 years,” Broome said. “To be able to be in the studio looking at the Boeing is as good as being in the hangar at LAX as a young mechanic. I just can’t believe it. Every night when I look at that airplane, I’m taken back in time to the moments that established my career.”
Broome has always been a man of vision, painting from a combination of his extensive aviation experiences and vibrant dreams. His first paintings from childhood include a New York City skyline with the twin towers in it, 20 years before they were built. Another painting of his “dream house” matches his Colorado Springs home in close detail, down to the space in front where the 727 sits today.
He’s pursued art since he was a child in Pueblo in the 1950s, when he entered a national coloring contest for Better Homes and Gardens and won with his picture of a bird. He’s never lost that love of nature. Thirty years ago, he and his wife, Billie, established a licensed wildlife refuge around Spring Lake. He still enjoys watching the birds flying outside today.
Broome first flew at age 7. His first close friendship with a pilot came in 1961, when the 14-year-old rode his bike out to Stapleton Airport. He crossed the tarmac to United’s hangar and started up a conversation with an airline crew preparing for takeoff.
“A DC-8 was parked there. It was the first time I had been near a big airliner,” Broome recalled. “The captain was George B. Ferguson, who came down and asked if I wanted to see the cockpit of the DC-8. He let me sit in the pilot’s seat and explained everything to me.”
That conversation developed into a deep friendship that continued until Ferguson’s passing on Christmas Day 2005.
By 16, Broome had soloed, attracting a crowd of over 100 witnesses. The Denver Post carried a feature on his feat, reporting, “Richard celebrated his 16th birthday Saturday and also made his solo flight after six years of planning and saving. He flew solo in a Piper Colt for more than a half-hour, making four perfect takeoffs and landings in the process at Jefferson County Airport.”
Broome, the child of a difficult divorce, was practically adopted by Ed Mack Miller, a United Airlines training captain.
“Through Miller and other folks at United, I became their golden boy,” Broome said. “At night, I would fly from Jeffco in my Piper Colt to Stapleton, and park my plane next to the old United Airlines Hangar 5, where the simulators were located then. I’d fly the simulators when they weren’t being used. That’s what really got my vector set towards an aviation career.”
The Colorado aviation world was even smaller back then. The many people Broome came across included USAF Colonel Vic Buettell, a former test pilot; Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame inductee Bill Duff, who put him to work sweeping hangars; and Braniff Captain Len Morgan, who became one of the artist’s best friends. Linden Blue, the present vice chairman of General Atomics, took the artist for a ride in his twin Bonanza when Broome was just a teen.
“My story is as much about the wonderful people I have met in aviation as it is about me,” Broome said. “My life has been blessed to have had so many of these individuals to help me.”
He married childhood sweetheart Billie Terrell just after high school and credits her with much of his success.
“Of all the people in the world who have made a difference in my life, the greatest of them all is Billie,” Broome said. “It’s her love and devotion that has allowed my career to flourish. She’s my best friend and my best critic, too, following the process of every painting I’ve ever created.”
Broome went on to “bust bags” at Los Angeles International Airport as a luggage thrower for Continental Airlines, a job he got on the recommendation of Jim Farrow. At the same time, he pursued a degree in aircraft maintenance engineering at the Northrop Institute of Technology. In 1968, when he went to work at LAX, he was United Airlines’ youngest A&P airline mechanic on the flight line.
“I looked about 14 years old,” Broome laughed. “I have no idea what passengers were thinking when this kid came out of the cockpit after working on their jet. It was the coolest job in the world.”
The next year, he was accepted as a flight officer candidate for United, but chose instead to finish his degree at Northrop. In 1970, he was finally scheduled into flight training in Denver, but United furloughed 526 pilots soon afterwards, including Broome.
Regardless of his career plans, Broome’s art career was booming. He sold dozens of paintings in crew lounges all over America; the commissions came in faster than he could paint. He had a few short stints as a Colorado Springs reserve police officer and a Corvette salesman. He also dabbled in journalism, interviewing John Wayne about his role in “The High and the Mighty,” and publishing articles in several major aviation magazines. But in 1971, he started painting fulltime and has never looked back.
Broome’s paintings are unique, even in the visually dynamic world of aviation. He uses hundreds of layers of transparent paint and touches of florescent colors to spectacular effect, reminiscent of the work of Maxfield Parrish. They’ve also earned him membership in the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1988.
“I’d been doing my paintings for years before I realized it was in a specific style,” Broome explained. “It’s very distinct and it’s the most difficult style to which to paint. On an original painting, I can get shadows to move across the sky and clouds to change shape. My paintings will change from day to night, depending on the light. Certain colors I put on the canvas will only respond under the same frequency of light under which it was painted.”
To capture the extraordinary effect, which Broome has dubbed “Starlite,” his original paintings come encased in specially built, handmade frames incorporating small black lights. Disney World inspired the effect, during his years in California.
Most of his aircraft paintings portray them in the air to capture the sense of flight. Broome creates vibrant works of art by combining his innate artistic talent with his technical understanding of an aircraft’s capabilities, infusing each painting with his passion for aviation.
“One of the great assets I bring to the table is heart,” Broome said.
His clients have included major corporations like Boeing, General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas, as well as several starred generals. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell used to come by and watch Broome paint. Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin, Broome’s good friend, commissioned hundreds of space and aviation paintings.
Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has had one of Broome’s paintings in the White House. Bill Clinton’s painting of Air Force One still hangs in a secure briefing room. George W. Bush has a painting of an F-102, despite the fact that Broome nearly ran him off the property in 1986, when the future president wandered into the wildlife sanctuary from the nearby Broadmoor Hotel and Resort.
Broome has also done a class painting for the cadets of the nearby Air Force Academy almost every year since 1974.
“All I have to do is be myself and I get to hang out with teenagers,” he laughed. “We have a great time. The fact that I’m well paid for original work allows me to do paintings for the cadets at prices that I charged 25 years ago.”
He currently has over 200 commissions on tap. While he ends up turning down much of the work that he could take on because of time constraints, Broome does pursue some specific clients.
“I’d like to get some commissions to paint more corporate jets and to do some originals for corporations, and maybe for NASCAR,” Broome said. “Since we can self-publish, corporations can buy these originals and put them in their lobbies and then share copies with anyone they want.”
Original paintings start with extensive research, including photographs and examinations of the hundreds of aircraft models that litter his basement. He also interviews potential clients about their dream paintings.
“The interview process of sitting down and finding out what someone wants in a painting is just as important, because I develop strong feelings about it,” Broome explained.
Some of Broome’s originals are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars today. He directs most clients towards the Starlite paintings, nearly perfect reproductions of his original work, created using a $250,000 digital Giclée printer and then hand-touched and signed by Broome. They start at about $1,000. He has about 700 different paintings from which to create these “re-marked” prints.
“Every time I do a painting, I’m trying to outdo the one I did before,” Broome said. “Primarily, I like to do paintings for folks who have their own airplanes and have the same passion for flying as I do.”
Broome works at a manic pace, from about 8 p.m. through to the next morning, for weeks at a time.
“When I get into the flow of work, I’m going Mach 3 with my hair on fire,” Broome laughed. “It drives my family crazy.”
Luckily, his family is very patient. Billie is looking forward to freeing her lovely home from her husband’s thousands of prints. His son, James, a business graduate from DeVry University, manages the mail order business and keeps up Broome’s extensive website.
Future clients will get to visit the artist in style, enjoying the luxuries of his new studio.
“Naturally, when individuals commission me for an original painting or a Starlite, they’re invited to my studio for a private tour. The 727 will be a big part of that in the future,” Broome said.
When it’s completed, the artist will have in excess of a half-million dollars invested in the new studio.
“It should be completed and ready for me to move into in April or May,” he said.
The Boeing 727-222A currently under construction in his backyard flew the friendly skies for United registered as N7266U for over 20 years. The aircraft already has a fully functional lavatory and will have several secret passages going in and out. The fully electrified cockpit will be transformed into a functioning flight simulator. Two different Starlite murals will be hung outside its windows.
“We hooked up the new studio heating and air conditioning system so that it also works inside the cabin and cockpit,” Broome said. “That was a real challenge!”
The plane is in remarkable shape. It was overhauled with a major inspection in late 1998, before being retired following the 9/11 attacks. The aircraft was later used in a television movie about Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.
“In many ways, one of the reasons I preserved this airliner in my own personal and private way is to pay tribute to the way aviation and the airlines were before 9/11,” Broome said.
Its inspiring confines promise to improve Broome’s work to a degree.
“Things will change,” Broome agreed. “My paintings are going to be more open. They’re just a little crowded right now. I think I’m going to be able to do bigger originals.”
As Broome approaches 60, his dreams are no less vibrant.
“I think a lot of it is imagination,” he said. “I’ve always been able to keep my childlike wonder about things. I think as time goes by, there are more and more wonderful things coming in the future. I’m very optimistic.”
To view selections from Rick Broome’s catalog or order aviation prints, visit www.rickbroome.com.