Sunday, January 1, 2017

Military aircraft art show has landed in Wisconsin

“Forever Amber” is based on a character in a racy 1940s American novel and is influenced by the pinup girls of artist Alberto Vargas.

The artwork for “Target for Tonight,” painted by Eddy Saville, a tail gunner on this plane, was inspired by the swing tune “Wine, Women and Song.”

Nose-art artist Vernon Drake, whose work is on the left, believed he received fewer missions over the dangerous Burmese “Hump,” so that he could continue to paint planes. “I’ve often thought that perhaps these girls I painted on the airplanes saved my life,” he said. 

Artwork on an unconventional canvas — World War II combat planes — is the subject of a new exhibit at an aviation museum about 90 miles north of Milwaukee.

Large aluminum panels, cut from their original warplanes, show colorful cartoons, clever names and pinup girls in the temporary display at the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wis. The collection of 34 pieces of "nose art" from Dallas-based Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is the largest of its kind. It's on loan at the hangar-turned-museum until at least August 2017.

Originally a way for pilots to identify whom they were flying with, plane marking became more personalized during World War II. While the Army Air Forces initially frowned on the practice, the plane graffiti became accepted as a morale booster. Creative pilots, crew members and cooks took up the brush and enamel; even Walt Disney offered his illustrators as designers.

All of the featured panels are from B-17 and B-24 bombers that were headed for the scrap yard. Minot Pratt, a scrap yard manager with a penchant for pinups, had his workers preserve the best nose art. Years later, he gave the panels to CAF, which is in the midst of building a new museum for its collections. It's targeted to open in 2020.

Some paintings mimic the style or actual pieces of famed pinup girl painter Alberto Vargas. A few of the creations deemed too risque are sequestered in a separate area, so parents can decide on their suitability for younger eyes.

The double-entendres, bravado and pride reflected in the nose art speak to the intimate bond the crews had with their planes. Young men, some not even in their 20s, put their lives into those aircraft, climbing 25,000 feet over enemy territory, sometimes on daylight missions or over "The Hump" of the Himalayas.

It's a veteran-based art show that tells a story.

"We are lucky to have it," curator Zack Baughman said. "Once it goes back to Dallas, it will never travel again."

Admission to the museum, 3000 Poberezny Road, is free for EAA members, $12.50 for adults;


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