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Media Contact:  Shell Amega 213-744-7446
Pager number: 323-525-4529
March 6, 2002
Taking Flight Exhibit at the California Science Center
March 9, 2002 - January 31, 2003
Leslie Payne with one of his homade planes. Photo by Bob Jones, Jr.

Taking Flight, a new exhibit in the California Science Center's Art & Science Galleries presents the work of Leslie Payne, an African American Fisherman (1907-1981) who, through prodigious visual imagination and mechanical talents, created eight life-size airplanes out of found objects. The exhibit, which opens March 9, 2002 and runs through January 31, 2003, features one of these planes and is a truly unique exhibit that explores the creative process, by way of independently pursuing and acquiring a body of knowledge. The exhibit will include one of the eight airplanes as well as photographs of Payne and his airfield landing strip and related materials.

Leslie Payne (1907-1981) was a commercial fisherman from the Chesapeake Bay Tidewater area of Virginia. He gained a reputation as one of Virginia's finest folk artist through his creation of maritime ship models and whili-gigs. Some of these works have been exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and collected by the Smithsonian Institution.

Payne on his airstrip. Photo by Bob Jones, Jr.

In the late 60s, Payne constructed, on his rural acre of land, an airfield landing strip complete with eight almost full-size airplanes, pylons, a machine shop and control towers. He then reinvented himself as Airplane Payne: the proprietor, manager and pilot of the Airplane Machine Shop Company. The exhibit is curated by Jonathan Green, Director of the UCR/California Museum of Photography who visited Payne's site, found the ruins of one of his airplanes and had it restored for the exhibition. Through Green's efforts, and courtesy of The Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institute, the airplane is available for viewing along with related artifacts.

Taking Flight is part of a new program at the California Science Center entitled, "The Art & Science Studio." The program explores the relationship between art and science, and culminates in an exhibition that incorporates a number of elements including seminars, a forum of community Fellows, and an online journal. Both the "Art & Science Studio" and Taking Flight are supported in part by a grant from the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Payne's endeavors are a tribute to his tenacity for realizing his dream of becoming a pilot even though the resources and opportunities were unavailable to him. In defiance to anonymity and illiteracy, and in resolute indifference to this distance from the centers of power, Payne used his imagination and mechanical talents to conscientiously become the architect, engineer and pilot that society had not allowed him to achieve in his working life.

Payne's plane as found on his family's land in 1988. Photo by James Friedman.

In the mid '80s Jonathan Green (then Director of the University Gallery and Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University) was told about Leslie Payne's large-scale planes. These planes and the related landing strip paraphernalia had been left to disintegrate untouched on Payne's acre after he went into the rest home where he died in 1981. Green drove down to Payne's acre of land to see what he could find. Barely visible beneath year of uncut brush and poison ivy he found fragments of several planes. With the Payne family's permission, Green had one of the planes restored and included it with other related material to create the exhibit.

Payne compensated for his lack of access to real technology through the magic of transformation. His work is a series of miraculous substitutions. Each of Payne's recycled pars is linked to its everyday use, to high technology and to apostolic meaning. A heavy wooden fence post is both a thin, light strut of a biplane and a remnant of the holy cross. Whirligigs are both weather instruments and ritual charms. And Payne's chief emblem and logo is a simple airplane on fixed landing wheels with angel wings.

Green notes that, "On one hand Payne's project of flight certainly invokes transcendence and spiritual meaning and questions our society's linkage of salvation, science and technology. On the other hand it raises an endless array of political and cultural questions regarding race, access to education and power, and our estimation of art and creativity."

In the same way that the plane will delight the eye with its imaginative transformations of everyday material into expressive objects, it will stimulate the intellect and the community to confront the interrelationship of art, science, technology, politics, religious beliefs, and history.

Note to Editors: The California Science Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission to the exhibitions is free. For recorded information on IMAX show times, phone (213) 744-7400. For advance ticket purchases, group rates, or to make free reservations for any visiting group of 15 or more (required), call (213) 744-2019. Parking is available in the guest lot at Figueroa and 39th Street for $6 per car. Both the Science Center and IMAX Theater are wheelchair accessible. For general information, phone (323) SCIENCE or visit our website at www.casciencectr.org.

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