The excitement of mankind’s “giant leap” has long been a guiding light for Vero Beach artist Annette Winkler. In fact, the lure of America’s space program was at the heart of the move here from Berlin, Germany, with her young family.
“It was always in me to one day to create space art,” says Winkler. “In 1996 we moved here, close to the rockets. I see all the rocket launches I can get to, and I saw the Space Shuttle. It was just out of this world.”
Space was also the focal point of a major new series in her work.
This July she finished “Apollo XI,” a painting commissioned by California documentary filmmaker Steven Barber of an Apollo 11 sculpture that is now on permanent display at Kennedy Space Center to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.
Barber had discovered Winkler on “Space Hipsters,” a Facebook group for space enthusiasts.
“She’s amazing,” says Barber, who describes her as “a space junkie, an aviation junkie. I think that’s what makes her work a cut above other people’s.”
A positive woman bubbling with enthusiasm, Winkler paints in oils, which she prefers because of their vibrancy. The originals are typically auctioned off with proceeds benefiting charitable organizations, and giclées are sold on her website, AnnetteWinkler.com.
Winkler’s fascination with space began when she was just 3 years old in Berlin. Her mother, a homemaker, and her father, a policeman, let her stay up late the night that Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
The idea of actually meeting one of the intrepid spacemen filled her fantasies. Then, in 1986, her parents took her on a trip to the Kennedy Space Center and the die was set.
While her parents painted oil landscapes as a hobby, she says, “when we saw the rockets, I said one day I will create something about this.”
However, the 1980s would bring her into a different field – nursing. The AIDS epidemic had taken hold and she wanted to do something to help, so she became an intensive care nurse.
Eventually, she married and had two sons. When their boys were 5 and 4 years old, husband Andreas sold his business, a software company, and the family moved to Florida.
“From an apartment in Berlin and then moving here; we had a pool for the first time,” she recalls. “We said ‘Wow.’”
The only English she knew at the time was the phrase “Do you have any stamps?” She had learned the phrase on that first trip to Florida.
“That was my only sentence,” she says with a laugh. “I wanted to send postcards back to Germany.”
Determined to learn English as quickly as possible, Winkler volunteered at Beachland Elementary School and began hauling a dictionary along on her grocery shopping trips to Publix.
Of course, there were cultural differences to bridge as well, especially those holidays and festivities not shared in Germany.
“I didn’t know Halloween,” she shares. “One day we got all the kids at the door wanting candy. I said ‘What’s going on here?’ We quickly drove to Walgreens and got a bunch of candy. That’s how I learned.”
It was the same with Thanksgiving.
“I went to Publix and there was a camera team of reporters. Of course, they came to me and gave me the microphone and said, ‘What is your favorite dish?’ ‘How do you cook your turkey?’ I’m confused and say, ‘Thanksgiving? What is that?’”
Another learning curve was dealing with hurricanes.
After learning to read and write in English and passing the test for American citizenship, she and her husband got an appointment to pick up their citizenship papers at an office in Miami. They drove all the way there, only to be told the office was closing because of Hurricane Katrina.
But it all worked out, and she now takes great pride in being an American.
“I’m so proud to be here,” she says. “I have here opportunities I could never have in Germany and meet so many people. It’s a totally different lifestyle.”
Winkler became a self-described “soccer mom,” driving her sons to practices and volunteering at their schools.
Then, when they went off to college, she took a chance on a long-dormant passion – art. She took classes at the Vero Beach Museum of Art and flew to Italy and France to study there as well.
At first, she focused her art on large-format seascapes and florals, and soon became immersed in the Vero Beach art show scene.
Then, in 2018, she reached out to Terri Irwin, the widow of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin. The couple had started a wildlife foundation and Winkler wanted to help them raise money by creating a work of art.
That piece – “Jub Jub the Great” – was an oil painting of an iguana on a 36-by-48-inch stretched canvas. She and Andreas drove the painting in a van from Vero Beach to Los Angeles, stopping overnight in hotels, where the two would walk the huge canvas up to their room.
They even made an out-of-the way stop at the Luxor in Las Vegas … not to gamble, but to enjoy the restaurants and to say they had been to Las Vegas. There, too, they walked the canvas through the lobby for safekeeping in their room.
“I was afraid to leave it in the car,” she says. “It’s now at the Australia Zoo.”
The following year, the family of Buzz Aldrin asked her to create a painting for their foundation.
“I said of course, I’d be honored to do this,” she recalls. “They sent me the iconic photo (of Aldrin standing on the moon). I called it ‘Magnificent Desolation.’”
That led her to attending the Apollo XI 50th Anniversary Gala at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library’s Air Force One Pavilion in Simi Valley, Calif.
“Dr. Buzz Aldrin was there and (astronaut) Charlie Duke was there, Gary Sinise was there,” Winkler says. “That was pretty cool.”
Since that first space piece, she has done paintings of Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols as well as imagined visions of SpaceX, what she refers to as “just my crazy fantasies.”
Winkler has also done commissioned works for the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, and for two foundations run by Queen guitarist Brian May.
With her nearly 15,000 followers, Winkler is now called a social media “influencer.” So much so that NASA invited her to attend a SpaceX launch at a special viewing area just three miles from the launch pad.
“It was really cool,” says Winkler.