Ron Kaplan has enjoyed a colorful career as an entrepreneur, executive and artist in the aviation world. In addition to being the founder of Warbird Aviation Art, Kaplan currently serves as founding director and Chairman of the Ohio Air & Space Hall of Fame and Museum (OASHOF) in Columbus, Ohio. In 2017, he left the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) after a 19-year contractor and staff tenure that included four as its Executive Director. In 2018, he secured a state grant of $550,000 toward establishment of the OASHOF. A capital campaign to renovate the art deco style 1929 Port Columbus Air Terminal as its home is soon to commence.
A native of Columbus and 1976 graduate of Whetstone High School, he grew up with an avid interest in aviation history thanks to his father, a former B-25 pilot-instructor and licensed private pilot. Kaplan attended Ohio University for two years, studying graphic design and communications. While at O.U. he created SURF OHIO, a t-shirt line that is now a trademarked and licensed lifestyle brand owned by Kaplan that includes SURF AUSTIN and SURF CHICAGO.
In 1982 he founded Columbus-based Kaplan Graphics, Inc., an imprinted sportswear company that he sold in 1994 to turn his then hobby as an aviation artist, journalist and photographer into a fulltime career. Calling his new creative venture “Warbird Aviation Art,” Kaplan quickly earned nationwide acclaim for his illustrations of aircraft, insignia and hand-painted reproductions of vintage WWII nose-art on leather flight jackets, scrap aluminum and actual aircraft.
In the mid-1990s, he pioneered the concept of extremely limited editions of actual aircraft scrap individually autographed by notable military aviators, with the addition of his hand-painted nose-art or insignia on each, mounted in custom shadow box frames. These unique, signed originals quickly became a coveted favorite of discerning aviation art and history collectors and remain so today, especially with the passing of so many of the aces and aviation heroes Kaplan has honored with each edition. His hand-painted flight jackets are considered museum pieces and treasured heirlooms, yet also proudly worn by their owners.
Among Warbird Aviation Art commission clients are Air & Space Magazine, the Smithsonian Air & Space Society, NIKE, Chuck Yeager, Inc., the Miss America P-51 Air Racing Team, the Memphis Belle Memorial Association, and many other individuals including WWII veteran aviators and warbird owner/operators. Kaplan has been an artist member of the American Society of Aviation Artists, the U.S. Air Force Art Program, and a charter member of the International Society of Aviation Photographers. He was also a longtime contributing editor to FLIGHT JOURNAL and columnist for WARBIRD DIGEST magazines.
Having curated and produced three Reel Stuff Film Festival of Aviation events for the NAHF (in 2008-2010), in 2012 he launched Reel Stuff Aviation Resources LLC, a consultancy dedicated to the development, creation and public appreciation of aviation cinema and broadcast projects. The 2013 Reel Stuff Film Fest directed for the Air Force Museum Foundation at its giant screen theatre in Dayton remains legendary among aviation cinema fans.
Kaplan is also a co-founder and co-director of the annual National Aviation Heritage Invitational (NAHI), created in 1999 in partnership with the Reno Air Racing Association and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. NAHI is a preeminent competition and awards ceremony for the restoration of vintage aircraft to flying condition.
Today, Warbird Aviation Art has expanded to include one-of-a-kind originals, canvas giclee reproductions, and a variety of gift items utilizing Kaplan’s artwork, such as the newly released special editions of custom crafted barnwood coasters featuring authentic WWII unit insignia derived from his original artwork.
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