Article by Rich Thistle ©

Kindred Spirits by Rich Thistle © The understated drone of a Curtiss OX-5 gradually made its way into my consciousness. As I looked in the direction of the sound, over the sunlit expanse of the Brampton Flying Club field, I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for. There in the distance I spotted the source. The small biplane seemed to be suspended almost motionless as it slowly sank toward the tarmac of the active runway. I found it in my binoculars just as it settled sedately.

Resplendent in its burgundy-and-silver paint, the Waco 10 taxied up in front of the admiring crowd which had gathered at the annual Great War Flying Museum fly-in. All eyes surveyed this ghost from the past, on its fuselage one of the proudest names in Canadian aviation. This was the vintage aircraft resurrected in 1977 by Leavens Brothers Ltd. to celebrate a half-century in the aviation business.

Purchased in pieces in New Mexico in 1974, this Waco 10 (N4578) would be reincarnated as one of the early aircraft in the fleet of the Leavens Brothers Air Services Ltd. Begun on a shoe-string by Clare, Art and Walt Leavens, the company began its fledgling air service from a rough, rented pasture field on the outskirts of Belleville, Ontario. Gradually building their company and fleet, the Leavens Brothers barnstormed through their first decade. For $3 for a ten-minute flight, the young company introduced thousands of Canadians to the new excitement of the air.

As the Depression took a stronger hold on the Thirties, fees were modified to $2. and then to a penny a pound. In the ten years between 1927 and 1937, 60,000 passengers had flown in Leavens aircraft. Besides flying passengers, the young company pioneered crop and forest spraying, advertising and banner-towing, and aerial photography. A flying school was launched in 1937. By the outbreak of World War II, Leavens Brothers was positioned to take an active role in the training of instructor pilots for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. They also undertook the overhaul of elementary training aircraft, primarily De Havilland Tiger Moths, and took on the non-military operations of No. 4 Air Observation School in London, Ontario, from 1940 to 1944.

The many post-war accomplishments of Leavens Brothers Ltd. are well known. In my mind, not the least of these was their meticulous rebuilding of the commemorative Waco. The reconstruction was begun in their hangar at Toronto in the Spring of 1975 and it flew again in the Spring of 1977, bearing the registration C-GAFD. In my painting it would bear the original markings, CF-AFD.

As I stood with the crowd and watched the Waco 10 taxi up, I had already decided that it would be the theme of the next painting in my GOLDEN AGE OF FLIGHT. Set at a typical rural airstrip, and featuring a 1939 Harley Davidson EL "Knucklehead" motorcycle, the painting KINDRED SPIRITS would recall a simpler time when aviation was coming of age.

To supplement my own photographs of the Waco 10 taken that day, I decided to seek more resource material from Leavens Aviation. Immediately, Chuck Leavens responded to my requests with generosity, sending materials about the aircraft and the rebuilding project, and even supplying paint sample chips.

As the painting took shape in my mind, I devoted lengthy thought to which machine would occupy the foreground. Should it be the aircraft or the motorcycle? As I studied the detail of the Harley, I became convinced that the complicated metal and chrome of the bike would make a fine entry place for the eye into my image. I decided to place it in the foreground. Whether planned or accidental, a painting presents the viewer with pathways for the eye. A couple of sketches brought me to the final composition which I would base on a reverse "Z". The eye would travel through the painting beginning on the motorcycle, move to the aircraft through the handlebars, and then to the cars and wooden hangar in the distance.

As a "narrative" realist many of my paintings tell stories, whether or not based on actual historical events. I hope the viewer will engage not only in the visual aspect of the image but also in discovering the tale therein. Bringing personal interpretation to a painting is part of this process of engagement.

  • published as a collector plate (Sold Out)
  • original painting available