Frank Herman Alston, Jr. (1913-1978) was a noted artist, teacher and designer of many distinctive insignias, flags, badges and medals for all branches of the United States government and the Armed Forces.
Alston was born on December 11, 1913 in Providence the son of Frank H., Sr. and Barbara (nee Hall) Alston. Raised in Providence he attended Hope High School where he excelled as a member of the school’s track team. He went on to receive his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1937. While at RISD he befriended and was taught landscape painting and etching by the distinguished artist and faculty member Frederick Rhodes Sission (born in Providence [1893-1962]).
The young Alston also attended Howard University and studied portraiture at the University of Maryland before teaching painting and design to students in the veterans’ educational program at the Lechter Art Center in Washington, D.C. Alston was immediately successful as an artist with his painting “Saturday Afternoon” winning first prize as best oil for artists under the age of thirty- five from the National Arts Club. In addition, his awards include the Washington Society of Artists’ Medal, International Business Machine’s (as it was known before becoming a household word as computer giant IBM) Purchase Award, Washington Professional Artists First Prize in Oils, Washington Professional Artists First Prize in Water Colors, Louis Comfort Tiffany Fellowship for Painting, and many, many others. Alston’s work has been exhibited in numerous galleries throughout the country with Washington, D.C. showings at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the United States Senate Office Building, and Howard University. His artwork was part of the private collection of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Alston described his painting style as “commonplace” and encouraged aspiring artists not to go out “seeking pretty pictures but to paint whatever they might see even if ugly.” His principal subjects were landscapes and urban scenes. His work was significantly Rhode Island inspired with “Ten Mile River” at Rumford and “Dry Dock” a Providence waterfront scene. In September of 1938 during the disastrous hurricane of that year, he painted “Start of a Hurricane” from a firsthand perch in the Watch Hill section of Westerly.
In 1956, the artist joined the staff of the Institute of Heraldry, Department of the Army in Washington, D.C. as a designer creating the Distinguished Service Medal of the United States Air Force, the United States Coast Guard Achievement Medal, the Meritorious Civilian Service Medal and, most recently, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor established in 1969 and first presented by President Carter in 1978. It is the only U.S. decoration — military or civilian — which contains a jewel (diamonds) and has been presented twenty- eight times (seventeen posthumously) to NASA astronauts for “exceptional meritorious efforts and contributions to the Nation and mankind.” Mr. Alston’s painting of the Seal of the President of the United States at one time was displayed aboard the official aircraft of the president, Air Force One. It is unknown if that artwork is still displayed as of 2020 in the current aircraft in service.
Alston also designed numerous distinctive insignias, flags and badges for all branches of the Armed Forces. In its edition of March 12, 1959, Jet magazine reported that Frank Alston was among the designers working on the new United States flag requiring 49 stars in its canton following the admission of Alaska to the Union in January, 1959.
During the summer of 1967, Alston traveled and studied in Europe. He next studied art in Mexico in 1969, revisited Europe in 1970, and painted in Jamaica in 1971. Throughout his professional life, spent largely residing and working in the Washington, D.C. area, Alston always sought the opportunities to return to his native Rhode Island for rest, relaxation, and artistic inspiration.
Frank Alston, Jr. died of congestive heart failure at Rhode Island(?) Hospital on April 25, 1978 and is buried at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, Maryland. For his distinguished career and accomplishments as a gifted artist and military heraldry designer, Frank Herman Alston, Jr. was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1979.