An aviation artist takes off with new book

Living in Kodiak, Alaska, for more than two decades with her husband, a former pilot, Priscilla Messner-Patterson became captivated by the airplanes she saw and used on a regular basis.

“Airplanes were kind of thrust upon me because that’s what we saw (in Kodiak),” Messner-Patterson said. “Here you get in your car and go to Silverdale … there you hop on a plane to go to the next big city. It’s a fascinating lifestyle.”

Messner-Patterson, a painter, joined the American Society of Aviation Artists and began specializing in airplane art about 14 years ago.

In 2004, when she and her husband were still living in Kodiak, a mutual friend introduced her through e-mail to former jungle pilot and author Bob Griffin, who had compiled the stories he had gathered over the years into a book, “Cleared for Takeoff.” The book, which consists of 50 stories, documented Griffin’s journeys as a missionary pilot for the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS). Griffin has logged nearly 7,000 hours as a missionary pilot for the JAARS and ferried the organization’s first trip to Ecuador in 1956.

Griffin, who grew up in Pullman, was planning on reprinting the book. He wanted to replace the photograph on the cover with a painting and thought one by Messner-Patterson would be perfect.

“He sent me photos of runways and places that they flew over,” Messner-Patterson explained. “I picked one picture that I really liked and started sketching and then sent him some of the sketches.”

During that time, Messner-Patterson visited an aviation museum in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, and saw the exact plane Griffin wanted, a Helio Courier, hanging from the ceiling.

“I took tons of photographs that I could use to sketch off of,” she said. “What makes this plane special is they made modifications to get it to take off and land in tight spaces.”

After seeing her sketches, Griffin made some suggestions about combining a few of the drawings and Messner-Patterson sent him a final copy.

“I did the painting and sent it off and kind of forgot about it,” she said.

Then, more than three years later, Messner-Patterson, who is also a member of the Coast Guard and Air Force Art Programs, received the book — complete with her painting on the cover — in the mail this past December.

“Talk about a Christmas gift!” she laughed.

Even after all the communication, Messner-Patterson said she still has never met Griffin.

“I still haven’t ever shaken his hand, but I’d love to meet him,” she said. “We share a common interest in airplanes.”

Stories from a jungle pilot

“Cleared for Takeoff” by former Jungle Aviation and Radio Service pilot and Washingtonian Bob Griffin, is available from or by e-mailing orders @

Priscilla Messner-Patterson’s aviation art, as well as her other pieces, are on display at Blue Whole Gallery. You can visit her Web site, or call her at 477-4195.

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