Home is where the art is for the surprise man
When Bill Frank started copying comics as a teenager, he had no idea his talent for art would lead to such an interesting life.
The 81-year-old Surprise resident helped open Disney World with his artistic creations, contributed to NASA’s Apollo program and made toys that many of us may have played with over the years .
His work has been used by companies such as McDonald’s and Petsmart.
Now he wants to share his lifetime of memories with others.
Frank hopes to auction several dozen boxes of photos, scrapbooks, memorabilia and other items he has collected over his decade-long artistic career.
“I’ve had a great life,” Frank said recently from his West Point home, surrounded by mountains of memories.
It took Frank four months to collect about six decades worth of vintage items in his home.
“I love sculpting,” Frank said. “I have a knack for knowing what things should look like.”
When Frank’s mother saw his talent for copying comics, she encouraged her son to go further with his talent.
Frank’s first formal training came from the Maryland Institute School of Art in the 1950s while still in high school.
He was able to start making money from his art when a company in Baltimore hired him to make signs for their business before he was even 20 years old.
In the late 1950s, Frank enlisted in the Air Force, where he started out as a B-52 mechanic.
“The reason I was a mechanic is because when you take the test to find out what you’re good at, I was good with my hands,” Frank said.
After leaving the army in the early 1960s, Frank began doing window displays for Montgomery Ward, where he became its director.
He then started a business called Spancraft Productions where he carved wall plaques.
His first big breakthrough came in 1968 when NASA hired him to illustrate the Apollo program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
He worked for the next two years on NASA’s Golden Age Moon missions.
Among his work with NASA, he designed the patch for the Apollo 11 mission, which was the first to put a man on the moon for the first time.
“It was an exciting time,” Frank said.
However, the NASA crew was fired after the Apollo program ended. But he had a big opportunity waiting for him when the Disney World theme park in Orlando, Florida needed help opening its park in late 1971.
Frank was one of the first 65 employees hired and its first artist. While there, he had the opportunity to have lunch with Roy Disney, co-founder of the Walt Disney Company.
He worked in the design and development department where, among other duties, he designed and built animated windows. His first was for “Mary Poppins”.
But Frank ultimately decided he wanted to accomplish more than what he was doing for Disney.
“I’ve always been ambitious,” Frank said. “And I didn’t want to be the only one building animated windows. I wanted to go somewhere in the business.
He decided to leave Disney after superiors told him to be more patient. Instead, he went to work for a Florida company called Fun Stuff, where he started designing children’s toys.
After a few years there, Frank and his wife moved to California in the 1980s when he took a job at a company called Top Banana, where he carved pop-up alarm clocks, among other things.
He eventually found his way back to theme parks to help with exhibits for the opening of Universal Studios in 1990. Among the noted franchises he worked on were exhibits for “Back to the Future” and “King Kong”.
After starting this theme park, Frank and his wife moved to Mesa to be near his parents, who had moved from Wisconsin. After living in the East Valley for about four years, they learned of a new, growing town to the west of the city.
The Franks bought the sixth home built in the West Point neighborhood for around $135,000 in 1997. The in-laws moved in right next to them.
“You could directly see the mountains when we moved in,” Frank said. “There was nothing else here.”
The couple lived in an RV park for six months while their home was being built. At the time, their only shopping option was the long drive down Bell Road to the Arrowhead area.
Frank is now semi-retired as he freelances his artistic talents for several companies.
The avid golfer is now busy figuring out what to do with his memories.
Has already been in contact with two auction houses, including one in Texas that visited Frank’s home to inspect his collection.
For those interested in purchasing any of Frank’s collections, email him at [email protected] or call 623-332-1475.
Jason Stone can be contacted at [email protected] Visit yourvalley.net.