Salvatore Joseph "Joe" DeMarco, a commercial artist and former manager of art services for AAI Corp. who was also widely known for his detailed drawings of World War I aircraft, died Friday of lung cancer at Gilchrist Hospice in Towson.
The White Marsh resident was 93.
The son of a dentist and a homemaker, Mr. DeMarco was born and raised on Lyndhurst Street in West Baltimore. He attended St. Bernadine parochial school and ended his formal education when he was 14.
"His father died, and he had to go to work to help support his family. He held a variety of jobs and was largely self-educated," said a son, Robert A. DeMarco of Glen Burnie.
During the late 1930s, he worked as a library clerk at The Baltimore Sun.
In 1926, Mr. DeMarco saw his first airplane, a Curtiss "Jenny," and the next year his fascination with aviation grew after Charles A. Lindbergh's historic solo flight across the Atlantic from New York to Paris.
By 1933, he had seen the Graf Zeppelin and the ill-fated Hindenburg, which had flown over Baltimore several times, and had flown in a "Tin Goose," the Ford Trimotor airplane.
He also had seen aviation pioneers Lindbergh and Clarence D. Chamberlin, who also successfully flew the Atlantic two weeks after "Lucky Lindy."
"That in combination with his artistic talents led to what would become his life's passion, drawing and painting aircraft, most notably, World War I-era airplanes," wrote Donna Suwall, a Baltimore pilot, flight instructor and writer, in a 2002 profile of Mr. DeMarco.
In 1942, Mr. DeMarco went to work as a draftsman at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. plant in Middle River.
"While working at Martin, he took a home study course in mechanical engineering. At work, he began sketching some of the parts he was drafting, and this led to expanded duties, as the sketches aided the design engineers in their work," wrote Ms. Suwall. "It wasn't long before he headed up a group creating the artwork to assist the engineers."
Mr. DeMarco took additional art courses at the Maryland Institute College of Art and at what was then Loyola College at night during the 1950s.
In 1951, he joined the newly created Aircraft Armaments Inc., now AAI Corp., in Cockeysville.
He headed the art services group for the next 31 years, retiring in 1982.
His sketches of World War I aircraft led to a second career in 1966, when a co-worker who had seen three of his pencil drawings urged him to display them at an antiques gun show. When a person attending the show requested copies of the drawings, he had none to sell.
He added a fourth and made the drawings into a set, which he began selling.
The first set — which sold for $3 — contained drawings of the Nieuport 11.C, the 1915 French planes used in the Lafayette Escadrille; the 1918 Fokker D.VII, considered to be the best all-around German fighter from World War 1; the British S.E.5 from 1917; and the German Albatros D.1.
Business boomed, with orders coming from all over the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
"I was shocked, surprised, pleased," he told The Evening Sun in a 1968 interview.
Mr. DeMarco conducted intensive research before putting pen and ink to paper. He searched museums and studied original blueprints to draw the warplanes that were used by the Allies and Germans.
Eventually, Mr. DeMarco's prints were sold at the National Air and Space Museum gift shop in Washington, the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, the San Diego Air and Space Museum, the Wright Brothers National Memorial Museum at Kitty Hawk, N.C., and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
In addition to his drawings, he also created about 30 aviation paintings. He did a cover piece for the quarterly journal of the American Aviation Historical Society and for Cross and Cockade, another quarterly.
He also designed aviation-themed cover art for games published by the Avalon Hill Co. and Game Designers Workshop. MicroProse, a video game producer, used his World War I drawings to illustrate the instruction manual for "Knights of the Sky," a computer game.
"He sold the rights to his airplane prints several years ago," his son said.
Mr. DeMarco was 52 when he earned his pilot's license in 1970, and continued flying until 1990.
Mr. DeMarco spent evenings and weekends building his home in Fork, which he and his family moved into in 1954. Since 1992, he had lived in White Marsh.
"He was a kind, gentle and humorous man who always was grateful for what he had," said Ms. Suwall, who met Mr. DeMarco in the early 1970s. "He never ever bragged about anything. He was truly an amazing man."
Services were held Monday.
Also surviving are his wife of 65 years, the former Edith Taylor, a secretary, whom he met when working at Martin; another son, Michael J. DeMarco of Glen Arm; two brothers, Frank DeMarco of Guilford and Lawrence DeMarco of Sparks; and two grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times