Springdale's Hangar Paintings Grab Attention

Airport users voice mixed reactions to 24-foot images of scantily clad women of the 1940s.


SPRINGDALE - The four pinup queens towering over the runway at Springdale Municipal Airport sure have a way about them. At 24 feet tall and radiating 1940s glamour, the temptresses demand attention.

The pinups appear on the west wall of a 20,000-squarefoot hangar owned by Springdale businessman Gary Combs. He commissioned the mural in fall 2004 as a way to enliven what he called a stale environment.

"The airport was so drab," said Combs, owner of Basic Block and Basic Construction. "I don't know if spice is the right word, but it added spice."

Bill Schwyhart, a partner in the Pinnacle Group, which provides fuel and jet charter services at the Springdale airport, isn't a fan of the murals.

"I don't know that a viable commercial airport is the appropriate place for it - it's urban art," Schwyhart said. "Personally, I don't think it's appropriate, but it's not my call." If anyone in the aviation world doesn't like the pinups, they can be removed for the low price of $2.2 million, Combs said.

"Buy me out," he said. "Come on and write a check." The hangar, and one Combs used to own north of there, are the only two at the airport bearing murals. His old hangar features a yellow biplane and a pinup model sitting on the nose of a jet.

The pinups are done in the style of Varga Girls, named after artist Alberto Vargas. His paintings of glamorous women appeared in Esquire magazine in the 1940s. Varga Girls, and their imitations, were popular with airmen, who painted them on the noses of bombers. Vargas' work also appeared in Playboy in the 1960s and 1970s.

Fayetteville artist Jane Garrison-Davidian painted the mural. She worked from a hydraulic lift, applying lettering enamel with a spray gun, a house painter's brush and fine-arts brushes.

The mural's subjects are voluptuous, even suggestive. But in the post-MTV era, that shouldn't offend anyone's sensibility, Garrison-Davidian said.

"What's the big deal?" she asked.

Leslie Eoff, who dined at the Airport Cafe on Wednesday, said she understands that the women in the mural represent the heroism of American pilots during World War II and the Korean War, when nose art was popular. Others may not get the point.

"They're nostalgic," said Eoff. "If you're a [baby] boomer, you understand what they are. If you're younger than [a boomer], they're Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera." Kimberly DeJarnatt, Eoff 's friend, had a different take on the mural.

She said she likes to take her three children to the airport, have lunch and watch the planes come and go.

"It's a wholesome environment until you look at the paintings," she said. "I'm waiting for the question: `Why are there girls over there with very little on?'" When the mural was being painted, the Springdale Airport Commission asked City Attorney Jeff Harper if the project could be stopped. The answer was no.

"Those buildings are not on airport property," Sam Weathers, chairman of the Airport Commission, said Monday. "We have no jurisdiction over that property." Like them or not, the murals have become an institution.

Airport Manager James Smith said he's heard pilots talking about the mural as they touch down in Springdale.

"They're noticed," Smith said. "But not necessarily in a bad way. I haven't heard any comments in a while. People have adapted to it. But I've heard some people say they should paint all the hangars like that." Commissioner Verl Thompson said that on a personal level, he has no problem with the mural. But the commission "would prefer that it not be there." One of the first things that new airport commissioners ask about is the mural.

"They don't know that the issue's been cussed and discussed," Thompson said.

The latest to ask was Commissioner Larry Gibson, who was appointed in 2006. Reached Tuesday at his office at George's Inc., Gibson said he had heard complaints but wouldn't be specific.Combs, a pilot since 1968, has no plans to close the curtains on his murals.

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