Some of us literally built our passion for aviation at kitchen tables and basement workbenches as we carefully followed directions to create airplane replicas we could hang in aerial battle from the bedroom ceiling.
For me, it was the artwork on the model box—that painting of a favorite airplane—that could make an eight-year-old give up lawn-mowing money faster than you could ask, “Do you need glue with that?”
For the most part, the artists who created that compelling art went unsung. Commercial art is an immediate business where the all-important deadline rules, and the names of many of the artists who produced captivating box art in the 1950s and ’60s have been lost. But just because commercial artists rarely see their work on gallery walls, that doesn’t mean they are any less talented than an artist being lauded at an opening in Soho. The illustrators of those model boxes did their job by captivating modelmakers with their art. Lured by the box illustrations, kids like me bought and built the kits, read the books about the airplanes we had constructed and, in some cases, found aviation turning into a lifelong obsession.
Artists like Jack Leynnwood, Jo Kotula, Roy Grinnell, John Steel and Roy Cross were only a few of the talented illustrators who produced the paintings on the outside of cardboard boxes full of plastic possibility. Collectors today seek out their original art, which can command prices well beyond what the original artist received for the work.
Here we offer an all-too-brief collection of some art from these overlooked masters.
this article first appeared in AVIATION HISTORY magazine