Glenn H. Curtiss Museum Art at War Exhibit is Open

Curtiss F11C-2 (BF2C-2) Goshawk fighter plane, photographed in 1933-34 while serving with Fighter Squadron 1B (VF-1B)

Rare century old Squadron Insignia from the Curtiss Collection  comes to life in unrivaled display. 

Glenn H. Curtiss Museum officials announced recently that their new Art at War Exhibit is now open and will hang through the fall of 2021. 

The Art of War: Squadron Insignia from the Curtiss Collection Exhibit started as part of a relatively simple, yet tedious effort to catalog their collection of 60 years in more detail. During the process they came across some long, slim archival boxes containing a series of canvas rolls. As they gently unrolled each one from the first box, images began to peak out for the first time in decades: a parrot, a hound, a duck with an umbrella, an alligator and a beautiful ladybug. It wasn’t until they had them all together and rolled out that they realized the true scale of their collection of aircraft fabric art. But they had no details. 

Early in 2020 they reached out to the National Naval Aviation Museum and began a ‘digital’ excursion through aircraft insignia history with the NNAM team. They determined that the pieces were authentic vintage aircraft insignia, primarily from the golden age of early naval aviation when open-cockpit biplanes launched from the decks of the earliest aircraft carriers, U.S. Navy forward bases, and even battleships. Many can be directly connected to Navy units from the 1920s to as late as 1940. The titans of early American aviation are represented: Boeing, Vought, Martin, and of course, Curtiss. Some ships involved are equally astonishing: USS Lexington, USS Saratoga, USS Ranger, and perhaps the most unexpected, the USS Arizona.   

There are six images representing French squadrons from World War I, roughly dating from 1914 – 1918. All but one are in fantastic condition for their age. Squadron numbers and iconic early manufacturers include: Salmson, SPAD, Farman, Breguet, Fokker, and Nieuport. 

“In total, our collection of original aviation insignia has grown to nineteen unique pieces (with a few duplicates), each a window into the past.” states Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. “As an unrepentant aviation history ‘nerd’ since childhood, I am genuinely astonished by what we found. From French airfields to the decks of the Saratoga, from interwar Hawaii to the seaplane hoist of the USS Arizona, these pieces survived over a century to end up in Hammondsport, NY. What stories they could tell!” 

 “It is the finest collection of its type that I have ever seen in over 40 years, and I would be amazed if there is anything that currently exists that could rival it,” notes Robert R. “Buddy” Macon – Deputy Director, National Naval Aviation Museum. “The fact that the collection has survived over 100 years and is being preserved to be made available for the next 100 is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Everyone should take the time, make the pilgrimage to the Glenn Curtiss Museum and take it all in.”

“No matter how long one works in this field, the opportunity to identify a collection like this doesn’t happen very often,” adds Johnson. “Though unseen for decades, they resurfaced at the exact right time, when the right combination of people and resources came together.”

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