Gail Halvorsen is no stranger to attention. Ever since his stint as the Berlin “Candy Bomber,” during the Berlin Airlift, he’s had his picture taken countless times, had buildings named after him, and has an museum/education center bearing his name in the works.
But Thursday, he experienced something altogether new: a painting of him created out of candy wrappers.
Halvorsen loves telling the story of how he originally came up with his famous idea to drop candy “bombs” from his plane during the Berlin Airlift.
It all began on a fateful day in 1948, when he passed two sticks of Wrigley’s gum through a fence to some German children during the Berlin Airlift. Realizing that the children probably hadn’t had candy in years, Halvorsen devised his now-famous plan to air-drop candy to them via makeshift parachutes.
It was the inspiration behind an art piece by Springville High School senior Jenica Freeman, who painted Halvorsen on a canvas of Wrigley’s gum wrappers.
Freeman estimates it took about 100 Wrigley’s gum wrappers to form the backing for the painting, on which she then used acrylic paints to cast a years-younger Halvorsen, grinning, with a candy-bombing plane in the background.
The painting is currently displayed at the Springville Museum of Art as part of the Utah All-State High School Art Show, which accepted only 337 works of art out of 1,016 entries.
When Halvorsen heard about the painting, he knew he had to head to the exhibit to see it — and he wanted to meet the artist, too. The two agreed to meet at the museum Thursday at the display.
“My gosh. What a talent. My word,” Halvorsen said, after standing up from his walker to give Freeman a hug.
Freeman said her father, Robert Freeman, has worked on the Saints at War project, which compiled stories and photos looking to capture the essence of faith in the midst of war.
“(My dad) is friends with a lot of veterans, and he has instilled that into his children as well,” Jenica Freeman said. “I’m just so grateful to Gail for his service, and for finding a way to make a happy time out of a sometimes difficult time.”
Freeman said the project was meant to show appreciation for people like Halvorsen, and since it was right around Veteran’s Day, it seemed like appropriate timing.
The exhibit officially closes Friday, and at that point, she plans to gift the painting to Halvorsen.
A museum named after Halvorsen is in the works, with organizers aiming for a groundbreaking around Halvorsen’s 99th birthday in October, said James Stewart, director of the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation. The date is tentative, as another $1 million needs raised to build the proposed center.
Once built, the museum will have three sections, said Dan Eliason, who is chairman of the committee planning what will be in the museum once it’s constructed. The first section will be dedicated to Halvorsen, commemorating his contributions to history, his principles and his lifestyle. Another section will be dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The third section will be a simulation facility, intended to interest kids in becoming pilots.