Curiosity was foremost as I stepped out of the rain and into the Coleman Burke Gallery. A light film of sawdust covered the floor of the bright and airy warehouse, and the smell of freshly cut wood coaxed me to investigate further. Inside was the result of five months of work and the replica of a bygone childhood.
A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art Mark Wethli has recently constructed his very first sculpture, a life-size model of a Piper Cub airplane. With the help of his father, a former commercial airline pilot, Wethli spent the summer months making small models, talking to wood workers, and scouring the Internet in preparation for this momentous undertaking.
"I had a few false starts, and there were some parts that wouldn't quite work out, so I would have to go back and start over," Wethli said. "But for the most part I was incredibly surprised at how easy it was."
Made of pine wood and some actual Piper Cub parts, the sculpture is an impressive study in mechanical grace.
"I find beauty in the structural laws that go into the building process," Wethli said. "There are certain rules that one must follow."
Normally the Piper Cub, which was a popular model in the 1950s, is made of welded steel tubes with wooden wings covered in cloth. Wethli's model, however, is the shell of the airplane, complete with a full scale wooden propeller that he carved himself.
Enhancing the sentimental value of working alongside his father on the project, Wethli is using a 1956 photograph of him posing with his father's very first plane?a Piper Cub?as the promotional art for the exhibit.
"I was first inspired to build the sculpture by the room we are in, which reminded me of the dimensions of an airplane hanger," said Wethli, gesturing to the open space of the Fort Andross gallery. "It is also the place where one would least expect to see a plane."
"But I also immediately thought of this picture and I knew at once what kind of plane I wanted to build," he said.
So, how exactly does someone go about building an airplane? In an interesting combination of traditional woodworking, avionics, and new age technology, Wethli was able to find an astonishing amount of help on the Internet.
"I would just search for it piece by piece. If something didn't turn up I would rework my search words and eventually I found what I needed," Wethli said. He worked out many proportions of the plane through scale drawings and also referenced parts of small model planes.
The overall effect of this sculpture is marvelous. A nod to the days of the Wright brothers, it is a remarkable piece of art and is well worth the trip.
Wethli's exhibit opens at the Coleman Burke Gallery as part of Brunswick's Second Week Art Walk today from 5 to 8 p.m. The sculpture will be on display until November 3. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12 to 4 p.m.