April 30, 2013

The Sonora Aero Club Imagined and Illustrated

 
Dellschau created steampunk-like contraptions with multiple propellers he called “aeros.”

Dellschau created steampunk-like contraptions with multiple propellers he called “aeros.” Image: from the collection of George Morton and Karol Howard, Texas.

I came across this article by John Foster on Design Observer’s blog “Observatory” about the notebooks of Charles August Albert Dellschau filled with fantastical double-sided watercolor drawings and collages. Dellschau died in 1923 and the notebooks were bought by a Houston, Texas junk dealer after being rescued from the curb after a house fire in the mid-1960s. Art history student Mary Jane Victor, who was attending the University of St. Thomas in Houston, spotted the notebooks in the shop and alerted art collector Dominique de Menil, who bought four of them for $1,500.

Dellschau called his collaged watercolors with newspaper clippings “press blooms.”

Dellschau called his collaged watercolors with newspaper clippings “press blooms.” Image courtesy Stephen Romano, Brooklyn.

Foster continues to trace the story forward after Menil included them in an exhibition at Rice University where graphic artist/mystery buff Pete Navarro discovered them. He acquired the remaining books, pouring over them for the next fifteen years before selling them to museums and galleries. Remarkably, Dellschau was a butcher until he retired at the age of 69. It was then he began his quest as a self-taught artist to document a secret organization he dubbed the Sonora Aero Club, designating himself its draftsman. The rest of the story on Design Observer is fascinating so be sure to stop by and read it.

One of Dellschau’s books, which were avant garde for their time, filled with his art. Image courtesy Stephen Romano, Brooklyn.

If you want to see the works in person, Brooklyn-based private art dealer Stephen Romano, who provided the images, will be exhibiting Dellschau at the Pulse New York Art Fair next week, which takes place at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan. Romano’s web site states there were more than 2,500 drawings related to airships and the development of flight within these books, and he will have some of them on view at the fair from May 9th through the 12th.

The colorful hand-drawn Sonora Aero Club compositions are double-sided

The colorful hand-drawn compositions are double-sided and the visionary illustrations cover every page of the books. Image courtesy Stephen Romano, Brooklyn.

If you can’t make it to New York City, a book recently debuted that’s available on Amazon. I’d like to second Foster’s gratitude to the Houston junk dealer who saved “a piece of art history.” When you look at the images posted here and on Design Observer, it’s helpful to remember these collaged watercolors were created during a time when most people still saw the act of air travel as almost magical. It’s also remarkable that researchers have found no account of a Sonora Aero Club in Texas or California. Kudos to John Foster for a great piece, don’t you agree?

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