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Boneyard Art

By Stephen Mauro 
Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: May 04, 2012 
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Boneyard Art (2)

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Nunca's "Phoenix of Metal" on a DC-3. (The Boneyard Project)

"The artists really engaged [the Boneyard Project] as eye candy, saying, 'This is something my granddad might like.'"

For the hundreds of outdated warplanes parked in the desert at Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson, Ariz., the final resting place is generally the scrap yard. But an international team of street and graffiti artists has given a few of these "Boneyard" planes a second option. Pushing the concept of nose art beyond the nose, the Pima Air and Space Museum's Boneyard Project exhibit, which opened in January, displays three brightly painted Douglas Super DC-3s, along with a Beech­craft C-45, Lockheed VC-140
Jetstar and C-97 Stratofreighter cockpit. The artists' styles range from folksy to 1930s art deco to postmodern.

In 2010 gallery owner Eric Firestone and art critic Carlo McCormick approached Scott Marchand, director of collections and aircraft restoration at the Pima museum, with the idea of using retired aircraft for contemporary art. "It was just such a unique offering," Marchand said, adding that he was hoping for "a project that challenges peoples' ideas and perceptions." Firestone and McCormick started collecting nose cones—one of the few parts industrial designers and DIYers leave behind after picking through the Boneyard's scrap heap—and sent them to well-known street artists. The result was "Nose Job," an exhibit that ran at Firestone's East Hampton, N.Y., gallery last summer and is now at the Pima museum. This time the artists have been rewarded with entire airplanes, which are on display just outside the museum.

According to McCormick, the concept is a tribute to American and European folk art that decorated war machines in World War I and II. "This is meant to be a popular show," McCormick said. "The artists really engaged it as eye candy, saying, you know, 'This is something my granddad might like, even though he doesn't get everything I do.' There's a generous sense of sharing visual invention." For more on the project, visit

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