Should a plane be painted in its natural environs – playing tag with clouds or hopping over trees and meadows? What about painting it forlorn looking, like a sad-eyed puppy dog, on the ramp waiting for its master to take it for a hop? Or maybe it should be shown perched expectantly on a catapult, like a leopard ready to pounce on some unsuspecting prey, waiting for the launch officer’s signal to go. What difference does the setting make?
There’s a TV commercial that brought to mind how important setting is to a picture. In this commercial, two women are talking in front of a large window about the product being promoted. During the conversation one woman raises and lowers the window blind repeatedly – each time revealing the comedy occurring in the back yard. In the opening scene a guy is busy barbecuing something for a party. His trusty dog is sitting impatiently by his side waiting for some morsel to be thrown his way. The next scene shows the guy in a tug of war with the dog over a huge steak. When the blind is raised again, the guy is on the ground holding a garden hose with a pathetic stream of water on the overturned barbecue with the hot coals smoldering under the butane tank. The final scene shows the guy standing, looking bewildered, as the barbecue blasts into the air and with poetic justice comes crashing down on the dog’s house, smashing it into a pile of kindling.
What did this little comedy sketch have to do with the product being sold? Probably nothing. The first few times I watched the commercial, it didn’t fully register in my mind what was going on. When I realized there was a whole different story being told in the background, I started watching it and forgot all about the two women and the product they were pitching. Which brings us back to the question, is the setting important?
Sam Lyons’ latest Piper Cub painting is “”Field of Dreams.”" Sam has done several paintings of this popular bird and, like the plane, his sold-out editions have increased in value and demand continues to grow with time. His latest painting was commissioned by two brothers who live in Virginia, who wanted the painting to depict a 1946 J-3 Piper Cub and a John Deere tractor from the same time period.
The artist shows two men admiring a beautifully restored Cub. Presumably, the Cub depicted is how the brothers envision their Cub will look when they finish restoring it, since everything is exactly as it will be, including the paint scheme. Even the N-number is the one that will be used.
To the left of the Cub, in the background, is Lyons’ signature pick-up truck, which appears in all his paintings except those in which the person commissioning the painting requests that it not be shown. At the gate is Charlie Kulp and Sam’s wife, Mindy. Kulp, the Flying Farmer, is an airshow performer who does marvelous things in a Cub, thrilling airshow crowds wherever he performs. His act starts with an unattended Cub, which makes one wonder what thoughts flash through his mind when he sees a beautifully restored Cub just sitting there begging for someone to fly it.
The artist can be seen playfully poking his head out of the hangar on the right side, just above the rear tractor tire. The name “”White Brothers Aircraft”" is not a play on words for the Wright Brothers, as one might suspect, but the name of the two men who are putting their heart and soul into rebuilding the Piper Cub shown.
Now some will say the image is a mite busy, but others will love it. Some may think the painting is not serious enough, while others will smile at the artist’s subtle humor. Some will ask why the tractor is given almost equal billing with the Cub, while tractor aficionados will be ecstatic. Whatever you think of it, you can be sure the artist had fun doing it, and something tells me the two brothers who commissioned it will cherish it forever.
So what kind of setting should a plane be depicted in? It depends on the story the artist wants to tell. Planes are at home on the ground as well as in the sky. Yes, they are meant to fly, and like those who have been smitten with the love of flying, they would rather be in the air than on the ground where they feel somewhat akin to a fish out of water. However, when you think about it, the setting does define the story being told. If the artist had used any other setting, it wouldn’t be the same story.
Larry W. Bledsoe is an avid aviation historian and writer. He can be contacted at 909-986-1103 or at BledsoeAvArt.com.