The Weird World of Folk Aviators
With his whimsical sculptures, Gregory Bryant celebrates early ideas about winged flight.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, May 2012
Eric Long, NASM
In 2004, Gregory Bryant was asked to scan an illustration of a steam-powered flying machine that never flew, and in fact never could have come close to flying. Tom Crouch, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum, had been researching the “Aerial Steamboat” proposed by one A.A. Mason of Ohio, who, according to a newspaper article from 1834, was planning to fly his invention that summer in Queen City.
After seeing the illustration, Bryant—an artist who has worked at the Museum for 34 years—was inspired to make a model of Mason's contraption (above). The model took him three months to complete. “I found out after the fact,” he says, “that the drawing that I based the model on was extremely inaccurate. In contemporary newspaper accounts there's absolutely no mention of wheels whatsoever. And the type of steam engine that the illustrator used didn't come into existence until the 1880s.
“The illustration is whimsical and absurd, and that caught my fancy,” says Bryant. So began his obsession with what he calls “folk aviation,” which has led him to create replicas of nearly a dozen would-be flying machines proposed by mostly forgotten inventors and dreamers. See the gallery above for more of Bryant's sculptures.
Made of cardboard, twine, paper, cooking skewers, wood dowels, tempera paint, fingernail polish.