Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lucky Lindy flies the Air Mail

Acrylic on gessoed hardboard, 10¼ x 12¼''
Painting # 206, 2012

This painting is my second entry for the ''Planes, Trains and Automobiles'' Invitational group show being held next month at the Elliott Fouts Gallery.

After reading Charles A. Lindbergh's biography on Wikipedia last fall, I started browsing on eBay to acquire some artifacts or memorabilia related to this much celebrated aviator. I would end up acquiring more than I could use. During the Christmas Holidays I read his first autobiography entitled WE, published on July 27, 1927, only two months after his historic transatlantic flight. A testament to his phenomenal popularity, this June 1928 edition featured in the painting was already on it's thirty first printing, . 

Charles A. Lindbergh was born in Detroit Michigan on February 4, 1902. His fascination with aeronautics started in 1912 at the age of 10, upon seeing his first airplane. After graduating High School, he enrolled in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 1920. By the end of March 1922, he quit college, hopped on his motorcycle en route to Lincoln Nebraska where he enrolled with the Nebraska Aircraft Corp. to earn his pilot's wings. Because the novice flyer could not afford to post a bond required to cover possible damages on the school only plane, he was never permitted to fly solo.  He took matters in his own hands and did his first solo flight in May 1923 after buying a WWI surplus Curtiss JN-4, ''Jenny'' bi-plane for $440 and trading-in his Harley-Davidson. Prior and after purchasing of the ''Jenny'', he did some barnstorming across the mid-west and at state fairs. Popular in the 1920's, barnstormers would land in a farmer's field and offer plane rides lasting five to 10 minutes for $5 to any adventurous bystanders. In order to attract crowds there was often some sort of aerial side show associated with wing walkers and parachutists of which Lindbergh would engage in, becoming somewhat of a daredevil. In March 1924, he began a year of military flight training with the US Army Air Service and would graduate top of his class. In October 1925, he was hired by the Robertson Aircraft Corp. in St. Louis as an airmail pilot providing service to the newly designated 278-mile Contract Air Mail between St. Louis Mo. and Chicago Ill, which included two intermediate stops in Springfield and Peoria Ill.



Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis

But Charles Lindbergh had loftier goals, one of which was pursuing the $25,000 Ortieg Prize to be awarded to the first successful non-stop flight made in either direction between New York City and Paris. He would later dedicate his best-selling book WE, to his mother and the eight spirited men from St. Louis who financed his adventurist project. Lindbergh would oversee the construction of the $15,000 one-seater, single-engine monoplane built by Ryan Airlines of San Diego, California. In order to keep the plane as light as possible, he carried an earth inductor compass, a periscope instead of a windshild, no radio, no parachute and no co-pilot, preferring to use the additional weight for extra fuel tanks carrying 450 U.S. gallons (1,704 liters)

The first successful  transatlantic flight had actually occurred eight years earlier on June 14-15, 1919. Two British aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown flew a modified Vickers Vimy IV bomber from Lester's Field near St. John's Newfoundland over open waters covering a span of 1,890 miles to Clifden, Ireland.  

Several unsuccessful attempts to win the Ortieg Prize had claimed the lives of six pilots.  On May 8, 1927, twelve days before Lindbergh's attempt, two French war heroes Captain Charles Nungesser and his navigator Fran├žois Coli departed from Paris - Le Bouget Airport and contact was lost after crossing the coast of Ireland, never to be heard or seen again.

On May 20, 1927 at 7:52 am,  the twenty five year old Lindbergh took flight in the Spirit of St. Louis departing from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, NY.  For the following 33½ hours, the chosen curved line flight course of 3600 miles would take him over New England, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, eastward over the Atlantic, down past the southern tip of Ireland, across the narrow strip of England, the English Channel into France and over the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He faced many challenges including skimming over both storm clouds at 10,000 feet (3,000 m) and wave tops at as low at 10 ft (3.0 m), fighting icing, flying blind through fog for several hours and combating fatigue from already being sleep deprived even before his departure. He successfully landing his Ryan monoplane at Le Bouget Airport at 10:22 pm on May 21 where an estimated crowd of 150,000 awaited.  From that moment on,  life would never again be the same for the previously little known former U.S. Air Mail pilot who had just achieved virtually instantaneous—and lifelong—world fame. 

After much deserve sleep he would remain in Paris for several days and for the following weeks would go on a tour where his exploit was celebrated. Among the festivities were ceremonies, dinner receptions, galas and parades. Everybody wanted to shake his hand, from the common mortal, political figures to royalty. Before leaving Europe, the cities of Brussels and London greeting the new aviation phenom with open arms. 

At the time it is probable that when Lindbergh reached America, he got the greatest welcome any man in history has ever received; certainly the greatest when judged by numbers. The celebratory victory tour focused on three American cities, Washington, DC, New York City and St. Louis. 

On June 11, 1927, Washington DC was more than ready to honor him. After being greeted by President Coolidge, it was the turn of Postmaster General Harry S. New  who presented Lindbergh with the first special airmail stamp. He concluded his speech with the following statement. ''It has no titles to bestow- no medal it can add to those that have been given in recognition of your splendid achievement. There is one thing, however, it can do that will everywhere be regarded as most appropriate. It has issued a stamp designed for a special use with the airmail which bears your name..... It is the first time a stamp has been issued in honor of a man still living- a distinction which you have worthily won''.


The Lindbergh Airmail stamp (C-10) that is 
featured in the above painting under magnifying glass 
is in mint condition and has been attached 
to the back of the frame for the prospect buyer.


On June 13, 1927, New York City was more than impatient in voicing that he hurry to the celebration awaiting him there. It is estimated that a crowd swelling from 3 to 4,5 millions lined the streets of Manhattan where among the many festivities was a ticker tape parade. During his last day in New York City, on June 16 he went to Brooklyn where more than a million people gave him another moving welcome. He would attend a large tea and reception at the Hotel Brevoort where Raymond Orteing presented him with the $25,000 prize for the first New York to Paris flight.


On Saturday June 18, 1927, the city of St.Louis hosted a huge parade with luncheon and banquet to follow. The following day he gave an exhibition flight in the Spirit of St. Louis over the former 1904 World's Fair grounds. Not an hour, scarcely a waking minute, was he free from demands upon his time an attention. It is estimated that he received more than 2,000,000 congratulatory letters. 

The top letter in my composition- postmarked St Louis, on June 18, 1927, also bears a special ink stamp in celebration of his crowning achievement on the same day the city would honor him.  This random letter is addressed to an Albert Ellbogen of Chicago, which has an indirect link with the Elliott Fouts show's theme, since Mr. Ellbogen was a past vice president of the National Railway Time Service Company.


Although Lindbergh never returned to service as a regular U.S. Air Mail pilot, he used the immense fame that his exploits had brought him to help promote the use of the U.S. Airmail Service, who's catch phrase was ''AIRMAIL SAVES TIMES''. The price for mailing a letter with the Airmail service at the time was 10¢, vs 2¢ for a First Class stamp using ground transportation. Lindbergh would return to his former route of St.Louis to Chicago in a CAM-2 for two days so that he could pilot a series of special flights (northbound on February 20; southbound on February 21) on which tens of thousands of self-addressed souvenir covers sent in from all over the nation and the world were flown, back stamped, and then returned to their senders as a further means to promote awareness and the use of the Air Mail Service. Souvenir covers and other artifacts associated with or carried on flights piloted by Lindbergh are still actively collected under the general designation of "Lindberghiana." The bottom letter postmarked with a lucky horseshoe -''Lindbergh flies the Airmail again'' was one among those thousands he carried and that I was so grateful to acquire. 


Curiously enough, both envelopes featured in my painting bears the name Mr. L.A. Wehrle of Belleville, Ill. Belleville is located only 17 miles away from St. Louis, MO. The first letter is as the sender, the other as the recipient. 

The book that grounds the composition is entitled, Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St.Louis by Dominick A. Pisani and Robert Van Der Linder, with foreword by his daughter Reeve Lindbergh. It was published by Harry S.Abrams Inc. in 2002 for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington where The Spirit of St. Louis is on display.  I positioned the book so that in viewing the postage stamp under the magnifying glass, Lindbergh's eye from the cover is looking at the viewer from the other side.




 After reading WE, I also had several viewings of Billy Wilder's film ''The Spirit of St. Louis''  starring James Stewart as Lindy. The movie was based on the 1958 Pultizer Prize winning book of the same name penned by Lindbergh himself. Both gave me a glimpse of his visionary insight and for his will for the advancement in aeronautics. He was young lad, highly intelligent, courageous, a fearless adventurist who attributed the success of his non-stop trans-Atlantic flight to meticulous planning and all those involved in financing and building the Spirit of St.Louis In his later years, Lindbergh became a prolific prize-winning author, international explorer, inventor, and environmentalist. It is a post that may seem endless, but I am just barely skimming the surface of whom Charles Lindbergh was. I am only focusing on narrative relating with the items I was fortunate enough to collect in order to set up a composition in this homage. 


Update- April 27, 2012

This past Easter we took a 5-day vacation to Washington DC. On Easter Sunday we visited the National Air and Space Museum where the original Spirit of St Louis and other navigational instruments of the Ryan monoplane are housed and preserved. I had studied it so closely, so it was exactly as I had imagined it and somewhat humbling to be in it's presence. After the Louvres in Paris, this museum is the second most visited in the world and for good reason. It has a WOW factor the moment you step in.




''Planes, Trains and Automobiles'' Invitational group show 
at the Elliott Fouts Gallery, Sacramento, CA, March 3- April 5, 2012.

Elliott Fouts Gallery
4749 J. Street Sacramento, California, USA , 95819 
-SOLD

6 comments:

Kari Tirrell said...

This is so amazing, Alvin! I loved reading the info on all the items in the painting. Loved even more that you attached the stamp to the frame. All that combined with your usual technical perfection - someone will surely snatch it up quickly. Excellent work!

Alvin R. said...

Thanks so much Kari, I had a blast playing Sleuth and identifying each item and how they related so well to the narrative. I've been collecting stamps since I was a teenager, so it takes a whole other dimension for me.

Gary Keimig said...

super job.

Carole said...

Great blog. I am from New Zealand and blog on art amongst other things. You might be interested in this post about a New Zealand artist Ian Scott http://caroleschatter.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/things-you-may-not-have-known-about-ian.html Will enjoy following your blog.

Brandon-Schaefer said...

Wow, just found your site - looking through your work. Amazing details and super realistic. I don't have the patience for that haha. More power to you. I've only been using acrylic for about 5 months now, but your work is very inspiring. Hope to see more in the future for sure! :)

Alvin R. said...

Thanks Gary, Carole and Brandon for stopping by and leaving a comment, so much appreciated!