Jo Kotula

On this date in 1910, illustrator Josef “Jo” Kotula was born in Poland. He emigrated at 6 months of age with his parents to the U.S. His father worked as a Pennsylvania coal miner. Self-taught as an artist, Kotula became widely known for aviation art.

“Jo was a master of handling sunlight on bare aluminum,” according to the American Society of Aviation Artists, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame in New Jersey in 1999. His cover illustrations for Model Airplane News started in 1932 and continued for 38 years. His art also adorned the boxtops of model airplane kits. 

He illustrated U.S. Air Force training manuals, acquired a private pilot’s license in 1936 and often delivered his work by air to clients around the country. His talent was such that it appeared in national magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Newsweek and Popular Science. 

He lived in the Midwest and Texas during early adulthood and met Charline Kirkpatrick in San Antonio. They married less than a month after their first date and moved east in 1931. They would have four daughters during their 66-year marriage — Jo Ann, Nella, Lynn and Orin — and a son, Kirk Patrick.

The Kotulas were early, heavily involved FFRF supporters and served as co-vice presidents of FFRF East in New Jersey. In 1954 they helped organize the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship and put up their house as collateral to borrow the money to buy a stately brick building to house the congregation. At a 1994 FFRF dinner there honoring them for their activism, Jo called the building “a haven for refugees from orthodoxy. We are here, we feel, not so much in our honor, but to celebrate, to dedicate our freedom of inquiry, our right to a healthy skepticism, to explore every avenue of thought open to scientific probing.”

Both were active as advocates for women’s reproductive rights, civil rights and immigrants’ rights, while opposing nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War. After Charline’s death in 1995, FFRF specified that some of its annual Freethought Heroine awards be given in her memory. Jo died three years later at age 88. D. 1998. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation