HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Cartoonist Cal Grondahl has always wanted to try to do some different things with his artistic talents, so when he found himself with more time on his hands in January 2014, he decided to start pursuing some of those interests.
So he paired his love of the Hill Aerospace Museum with his love of art, and now many children are benefiting from it at Cal’s Coloring Corner every Saturday at the museum.
“I’ve always loved the museum and had an interest in it,” said Grondahl, who plied his editorial cartoonist trade for many years at the Standard-Examiner.
Peering from behind his “coloring table” with stacks of self-drawn planes ready for kids to color, Grondahl said he wanted to volunteer at the museum, but thought he had to be a veteran to be involved. “When I found out that wasn’t the case, I thought, ‘Well, I can do it,’ ” Grondahl said.
Robb Alexander, executive director of the Hill Aerospace Foundation of Utah, was thrilled when Grondahl talked to him about volunteering. He said Grondahl grew up in North Dakota near an Air Force base, where his love for planes began. “He is passionate about the museum and said he would do anything for us and I thought it would be great if we could use his artistic abilities,” Alexander said.
So Grondahl went to work drawing planes, but not just any planes — his planes mirrored those in the museum but with a little Grondahl flair. At first, they were colored planes and then Alexander and Grondahl came up with the idea to not color them, but to let the kids color them — thus, the idea of Cal’s Coloring Corner was born.
Now every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Grondahl offers about 25 pages to color. Many of his drawings mirror planes in the museum, but he has also started a “paintball series” of planes that has been popular with the young artists.
“One thing led to another and now it’s one of the most popular things kids do at the museum,” Alexander said of the Coloring Corner.
A lot of the kids will take the coloring pages around the museum to find the planes Grondahl has drawn, kind of like a scavenger hunt.
Alexander and Grondahl have also put Grondahl’s work together in a coloring book sold at the museum gift shop for $5. All proceeds go to the museum. On the back of each coloring page there is a detailed description of the plane and its origins. Grondahl said he has no desire to make money off of his volunteer creations. “If we can combine paper, which is cheap, with a little technology, then it works,” Grondahl said.
Alexander has loved having Grondahl at the museum, with all of the ideas he has to help the museum in any way. “He’s a joy to have at the museum,” Alexander said. “He has brought some awesome energy and he is there rain or shine every Saturday.”
When Grondahl started volunteering, Saturday was about the only day he could do it. Now he has more time, but Saturdays have still stayed as Cal’s Coloring Corner. “It’s a good day for families,” Grondahl said.
On a recent Saturday, children filled the table around Grondahl, and he talked to the kids and parents as they participated, explaining the planes he had drawn and what they meant and what they did.
Alexander said that interaction is usual for Grondahl. “He is our pied piper artist guy,” Alexander said with a laugh.
Grondahl loves it. “I have worked with editors all my life and I very rarely could pick my own subjects. Now I do what I want. There’s no coach. No agenda,” Grondahl said.
He has noticed that for parents, kids can be stressful, but in his situation he finds being around the kids to be relaxing and enjoyable. At the corner, he can give parents a bit of a break.
Grondahl has also worked with the Dinosaur Park on some similar ideas, although he hasn’t been able to do a coloring book there, at least not yet. He would like to get more things going there in the future.
Alexander hopes Grondahl’s relationship with the Aerospace Museum is a long one — because so far, it’s been great.