'Religious seeds' from mankind's first-ever spacewalk grow to $31,070

Earlier this month, we looked at items of space exploration memorabilia that haven't only been to the Moon but also have the Moon dust on them to prove it.

But collectors at Heritage Auction Galleries' recent November 17 blockbuster Signature Space Exploration sale took this concept one step further, with the sale of a lot that is unusual even by space memorabilia standards...

Emerging as the fourth-highest selling lot in the sale was an original Robert McCall painting which depicts Gemini 4 astronaut Ed White as he undertook mankind's first-ever spacewalk in 1965.

McCall's painting offers a detailed and colourful view of White during his landmark EVA (or 'extra-vehicular activity'). He is attached to the Gemini 4 capsule via an umbilical cord, while the Moon - which mankind wouldn't reach for another four years - rises over the horizon.

McCall painted this as a study for a larger commissioned version for a bank in San Antonio, Texas, and gifted it to Ed White. The artist's signature is on the painting's lower right.

Robert McCall's painting of Gemini 4 astronaut Ed White

You may likely be familiar with McCall's work - if not from his mural of man's conquest of the Moon which occupies a whole wall at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, then through his artworks for Stanley Kubrick's classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey and LIFE magazine.

The painting is described as "breathtakingly beautiful" in Heritage's lot notes, and rightly so. Although these factors don't go all the way to explaining why the piece sold for $31,070 above its $18,000 estimate and was the fourth-biggest lot in Heritage's sale...

A crucial deciding factor may have been 10 mustard seeds included in the lot, stored in a Fliteline case. They are no ordinary seeds, having been carried by White and flown in space during the landmark EVA depicted in McCall's painting.

In fact, the seeds were also a poignant symbol of White's religious faith. In the Bible's New Testament, there are several examples of Jesus using the mustard seed as a model of the growth of the Kingdom of God, from an extremely tiny seed to the largest of all garden plants.

The seed also symbolises the amount of faith needed to accomplish much. Given the success of astronauts' space flown Bibles at past space memorabilia auctions, it's safe to assume that the lot's religious overtones contributed to its success at Heritage's sale.


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