Stan Vosburg

Inside Art
Visions of Chapman
The satisfying crack of a baseball bat, the excited chatter of children on an otherwise quiet, tree-lined street in Orange…and suddenly an all-encompassing mechanical thrum fills the air.  It’s a warm Southern California day in 1945, and the kids’ pickup ball game is interrupted by the majestic aircraft swooping low over their heads.  The children are no strangers to seeing aircraft and identifying them.  Although victory in Europe has been achieved, the war still rages on in the Pacific. Aircraft factories in Southern California are also still turning out scores of fighters and bombers for the war effort.
 
But this plane is different.  The aircraft is new, square-framed and threatening-looking—a craft you wouldn’t want to see coming, if you were the enemy.  The children stop and gaze up in wonder as the sleek P-61, aptly nicknamed the “Black Widow,” soars past on its maiden flight, a dark-winged and agile “spider” newly hatched from Southern California’s Northrop plant.  It was the first fighter plane purpose-built from the ground up for night fighting, appearing late in the conflict.  And its night vision was the most sophisticated radar ever built up to that point.
 
What was it like to be a kid in Orange that day, or on hundreds of days like it as World War II played out in fiery conflicts around the globe?  Or to be a local woman working at one of the factories churning out aircraft at a previously unheard-of clip?  Or a brave young aviator whiling away his last few days stateside while waiting to be shipped out to the front?  Local artist Stan Vosburg brings all of these real-life characters and more to life in his detailed and colorful paintings, which he has dubbed “Homefront Aviation Art.”
 
Many artists have focused on World War II aircraft carrying out battles, dogfights and bombing runs, but Vosburg chooses to put his spotlight on the impact of these aircraft on the local community.  Specifically, his hometown: Orange, as well as greater Orange County.  The featured artwork in this issue, Vosburg’s “The Spider and the Fly,” brings you the scenario described above, with the newly built “Black Widow” flying low over Orange as the children’s fly ball hangs in the air.
 
Vosburg’s human characters are Norman Rockwell-esque in style, each a recognizable type and personality.  He has often used members of his own family as the models.  The paintings also capture a moment in time as well as the larger era.  The feeling the paintings evoke is realistic and warm-hearted—a glimpse into the past and at people not very different from us.  The planes are the stars, of course, but so are the everyday folks of Orange County who witness them.
 
In “Impressing the Night Shift,” an airfield full of newly built P-51D Mustangs is the backdrop for a bit of human drama: a young pilot chats up one of the women flight-line workers, as two more Rosie Riveters walk past with knowing smiles.  In “Balboa Rendezvous, 1944,” boys riding their bikes at the beach, with their dog loping in front of them, look up in awe as a pair of bent-winged Corsairs roars past.  In “Twin Tails and Carrot Tops,” two Rosies are taking a break on the beach at Corona del Mar “after finishing their shift at the ball turret factory in Anaheim,” writes Vosburg in his detailed description.  As their red-headed children play in the sand, a brace of Lockheed Lightnings soars overhead, and one of the women and a child wave enthusiastically.
 
Vosburg, a native Californian, was born on December 7, 1942, on the first anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.  When he was 12, his family moved to Anaheim, and Stan began working at Disneyland as a guidebook seller, along with a kid named Steve Martin (who would grow up to become the famous comedian).
 
“My interest was piqued by the art of Walt Disney,” Vosburg recalls of that period.  His artist/art teacher mother encouraged his fascination with drawing and painting, which became chief interests of his throughout his adolescence and into his first years of college.  He loved and absorbed the influential art of such great illustrators as Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth and Rockwell, as well as 17th Century Dutch and Flemish painters.
 
The Southern California of the 1950s in which Vosburg grew up was also a focal point of the nation’s aviation industry, home to many aircraft manufacturers and military airfields.  Soon, aviation and the space program became his main interests, and his art was relegated to merely a hobby.
 
After graduating from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in mathematics, Vosburg took the Air Force pilot written exam—but failed the eye test.  Undeterred, he chose another aviation path.  “I was hired by the Northrop Company in Anaheim to begin what turned out to be a 39-year career as a structural analyst in the aerospace defense industry,” says Vosburg.
 
His engineering work, which included being on the Rockwell team that designed and installed the tiles of the Space Shuttle’s thermal protection system, instilled in Vosburg an attention to the details of how mechanical elements look and work.
 
And then he became one of those almost mythical creatures, a late-bloomer artist who can actually paint, and paint well.
 
Deep into his career, Vosburg says, “I decided to exercise the right side of my brain for a change, to get relief from the stress of work.”  He took a series of painting classes at Fullerton College from Bob Egan, a longtime instructor there, and joined the American Society of Aviation Artists, seeing a way to mesh his love of aviation and aeronautical history with his newly burgeoning love and talent for art.
 
Vosburg begins each of his “Homefront Aviation” paintings with a deep dive into research, poring through old Life and Saturday Evening Post magazines and frequenting libraries and local archives, as well as his own extensive collection of aviation books.  “I believe this research and my realistic style of depiction make these period paintings a window into one of aviation’s most exciting eras; a shared experience for airplane lovers of all ages,” he says.
 
He’s been honored with many prizes and awards for his paintings.  “Impressing the Night Shift” was re-created as a “living art” tableau at the 1999 Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach.
 
Vosburg sells paper and fine-art metal prints, and paper and canvas giclees of his work on his website, www.stanvosburg.com.  His work will be an honored part of the Veteran’s Day “Field of Valor” installation presented by the Community Foundation of Orange at Handy Park on November 10-17.  The event is a patriotic tribute saluting all military personnel and veterans with a field of 1,776 American flags, each of which can be dedicated as a tribute to a family member or friend who served our nation.
 
To find out how you can dedicate a flag for Field of Valor, or how to volunteer to help, visit www.communityfoundationoforange.org/field-of-valor-2018.html. And visit Handy Park (at 2143 E. Oakmont) to see the Field of Valor and Vosburg’s artworks.
 
A print of “The Spider and the Fly” will be on display at the Orange Public Library & History Center in December, along with several of Vosburg’s working sketches for the piece.  An exhibition of Vosburg’s original oil paintings is also planned for August through November 2019 at Chapman University’s Hilbert Museum of California Art.

Published in the Nov/Dec 2018 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Mary Platt, Photo provided by Stan Vosburg

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