"Airplane" Payne's Airfield and Machine ShopLeslie J. Payne (1907 - 1981)
Lillian, Virginia, United States
About the Artist/Site
Leslie J. Payne’s nickname emphasizes the Virginian artist’s lifelong passion: airplanes. Having attended an air show in 1918, Payne developed a fascination with aircrafts. Instead of taking to the skies physically, Payne stayed grounded and instead began building his own scale replicas of his favorite planes like Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” and Bi-Planes from the second World War. Payne’s property transformed into an airfield which hosted both his creations as well as machine shops where Payne could work on his planes. Accounts recall Payne’s imaginary flights: complete with a logbook of his journeys, an interpretation of a WWII aviator uniform, and a crew of enthusiastic neighbors who were more than happy to join Payne in his imagination.
While Payne’s airplane replicas are the largest of his works, ranging between 12 and 16 feet long, Payne also created a number of smaller sculptures that captured his patriotic attitude. While he was not eligible for the second World War, he maintained a fervent support for the troops, shown in sculptures like “Hitler” which offers a negative portrayal of the dictator, versus the more celebratory “Two Soldiers” which depicts two servicemen bookending a bomb. Payne’s “Statue of Liberty” was inspired by the artist’s trip to New York and the statue’s synonymity of the American spirit. Unique in his process, Payne would often create sketches and plans before beginning the construction of his machines. The prospective planes and other creations would be built using whatever spare parts Payne could acquire and painted with vibrant colors using house paint.
Other of Payne’s sculptures draw on his experience as a sailor, working on both fishing and crabbing boats in Chesapeake Bay, recreating the vessels at a smaller scale of around 3 to 4 feet long. Few of Payne’s sculptures remain, with one of his planes left rusting in the airfield for decades before rediscovery. The Smithsonian acquired several of Payne’s sculptures after former director of Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts, Jonathan Green, brought the deteriorating works from Payne’s property in Virginia to Ohio for restoration. Surviving sculptures helped solidify Payne’s legacy as an airplane fanatic and engineer of imagination.
~Nikki Ranney, 2023
Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak. Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-century American folk art and artists. New York: Abbeville, 1990.
Found Objects, scrap metal, wood, enamel house paint
Map & Site Information
Lillian, Virginia us
Latitude/Longitude: 37.8617967 / -76.299667
Newport News , VA