Payne with one of his homade planes. Photo by
Bob Jones, Jr.
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
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
on his airstrip. Photo by Bob Jones, Jr.
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.
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.
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.
plane as found on his family's land in 1988.
Photo by James Friedman.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.