In my last article, I described the Star Trekker Fitness Program. It’s more about enjoying every episode of Star Trek in order than getting in shape. Besides describing my rigorous routine, I also focused on comics and art from the first Star Trek series published by Gold Key. The 1970s series boasted memorable works by artists like George Wilson and Al McWilliams. In this article, I want to bridge the gap between The Original Series and the decades worth of programming that followed. However, I won’t focus on the TV shows yet. First, I want to look at Star Trek artist Keith Birdsong, whose paperback cover paintings could be described as Science Fiction Realist.
Almost As Many Paperbacks
The number of Star Trek paperbacks may never catch up to the number of TV episodes, but it sure seems like there are at least 800 different books out there. The featured artist, Keith Birdsong, painted thirty of those Star Trek novel covers. His ability to accentuate the features of each actor that makes them the beloved characters is phenomenal. Though I don’t have Birdsong’s complete bibliography, his works spanned The Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and movie franchises. At least! His paintings exhibit rich colors and remarkable likenesses. But I haven’t seen any that sold for outrageous prices.
For example, Star Trek 59: The Disinherited featured the original cast. In 2018, the cover painting sold for only $2,040. I hope the buyer has plenty of room. The painting dimensions exceeded two feet wide by three feet tall!
The Next Generation of Art
When Star Trek: The Next Generation left space dock in 1987, the trek universe already had millions of inhabitants spawned from the 3-year series, animated adventures, big-budget movies, and of course, fan-driven conventions. In seven seasons, Picard and the crew respectfully built upon everything that came before. They added to the lore in their own exceptional ways as well.
Birdsong contributed in his own ways too. His spectacular cover featuring Picard and Data for ST:TNG 14: Exiles sold in 2016 for $837. A year later, Worf, Riker, and Troi art fetched $526. That painting graced the novel ST:TNG Traingle: Imzadi II. These fairly recent sales highlight the affordability of Birdsong’s handiworks. More recent sales trend higher to roughly a few thousand dollars.
In a sneaky contribution to what made TNG great, Birdsong also spent time as a makeup artist. His sister DeeJay Gaugh shared.
“Patrick Stewart from TNG didn’t want anyone else doing his makeup but Keith, because everyone else made his head too shiny,”
The Gamma Quadrant and Beyond
Commander Sisko and the staff of Deep Space Nine spent seven years keeping the peace at the edge of the Gamma Quadrant. Not bad for a floating truck stop! (You can see which series I just couldn’t get into…) Nonetheless, Deep Space Nine had its share of memorable characters like shapeshifter Odo, Jadzia Dax, and commander Worf. Of course, Worf and a few others doubled up doing both DS9 and TNG.
Birdsong featured Sisko and Security Chief Odo on the cover of Star Trek Deep Space 9 The Big Game. The 2019 sale raised $720 including buyer’s premium through Heritage Auctions. Again, this is a movie poster size painting that sold less than two years ago for under a thousand bucks!
Star Trek Voyager recaptured my interest. A few Birdsong covers sold for that series through HA. Seven of Nine and B’Elanna Torres highlighted the cover of book 19, Dark Matters Book 2. In 2017, the painting fetched only $239.
The Borg were introduced in ST:TNG, but became personal in Voyager when Seven of Nine joined the crew. Art featuring great protagonists like Kirk, Picard, and Janeway appeals to fans. But don’t discount the value of great villains like the Borg, Khan, and Harry Mudd. Well, maybe not Harry Mudd. You remember Khan Noonien Singh from Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan. A painting by Birdsong featuring Ricardo Montalban’s likeness sold in 2017 for $657.
More Interesting Keith Birdsong Star Trek Art
Besides the cover paintings, the USPS commissioned Keith Birdsong to create images for commemorative stamps. While that’s a tremendous honor, I actually love his Hamilton Collection Plate paintings. Frequently, those works captured an ensemble of characters, sometimes in memorable scenes. Like Gilligan’s Island, Roddenberry’s characters shined in dream sequences and holodeck novellas. The ST:TNG plate illustrating “The Big Goodbye” stands out for me. It sold in 2017 for just under $500, possibly low since the familiar characters were costumed ‘out of character’.
An interesting Birdsong piece created for Star Trek: The Game sold for $3,585 in 2016. Collectors can find the game on eBay for roughly $30. Did the buyer clear off an entire wall for this 40″ x 30″ painting? If not, I have room on my ceiling.
Remembering Star Trek Artist Keith Birdsong
When researching this article, I was saddened to find out that Birdsong died back in 2019. Apparently, about a year earlier, he had a stroke that doctors said would severely limit him. Somewhat miraculously, he recovered significantly. According to his sister, he enjoyed a renewed faith and sought to experience items on his bucket list. About a year after the first stroke, he had another while driving. That led to life-ending injuries before turning sixty. Keith Birdsong will long be remembered in his hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he continued to live and work. Likewise, the rich colors and life-like resemblances of his Star Trek novel paintings will live on in the hearts of fans. Keith Birdsong Art: Memories.