Flying to a specific South Sea isle

I became curious last night about George Lawler’s sources for his 1938 “Fly to South Sea Isles” painting for Pan American Airways, so I did some digging. The auction listing I quoted in my earlier post spoke of a fantasy setting that he likely merged from multiple sources, but it seems to me that there’s just one primary source: It’s clearly a view of Mont Rotui from either ‘Ōpūnohu Bay or Cook’s Bay in Mo’orea, Tahiti. If it’s from Cook’s Bay, the Clipper’s direction of travel in the painting might not be right as it probably would have inconveniently scraped one or two other mountains from that direction, but even so, the pleasing juxtaposition and opposing symmetry of the aircraft and the woman are reason enough for a little artistic licence, don’t you think?

You can click on most of the images below for larger versions.

The 50th anniversary print, from the National Air & Space Museum archive:

Mont Rotui circa 1940:

Mont Rotui circa 1960:

In the course of my search, I remembered that my print was issued by Hansa Editions to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Clipper service, and then was a bit amazed to find, on Google Books, the Islands magazine advert from which I ordered in the 1980s. This print, probably the finest of the various reproductions made over the years – some are appallingly amateurish in quality – goes for considerably more than US$25 these days.

I also found a photograph in the Smithsonian archive that gives a better sense of scale of the behemoth that was the B-314 – click the 1970 x 1343 image to see more clearly the two men on the right wing. This is the same California Clipper, NC-18602, at Pearl Harbor circa 1939-1940 with the view over the wing from the #1 engine. I see no weathering at all, even around the engines, so I favor mid-1939, possibly right after its maiden voyage to Hawaii. That open hatch is the navigator’s windowed observation hatch.

Below is NC-18602 at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay on christening day, Tuesday 25 April 1939, with the Bay Bridge in the background. The platform it’s on is moveable and could be winched up the ramp while the aircraft remained level; the aircraft was then towed ashore for maintenance using the wheeled beaching cradle it sits on.

Aerial view of man-made Treasure Island with the maintenance ramp at the lower right leading to the Pan American Airways hangar doors:

This hangar and the one to the right of frame are both intact on Treasure Island, two of just a handful of original 1930s structures still there. Section 7 of this article on Treasure Island then and now shows the buildings today. [Edited to add: I found the link broken December 2021 and fixed it to use the Internet Archive 2017 snapshot of the original.]

New digs

We moved our offices into a new building a couple towns away this week, and I ended up with a substantially larger office – “All the more to decorate” thought I, rubbing my hands. A gallery of my new digs is below. I haven’t decided yet how to fill out one wall, but the other walls are pretty much as I want them. I still see trees and greenery out my window (two windows, actually), thank goodness, and there are wild turkeys at the new place, too.

In the process, I finally got around to having my William Phillips “Clipper at the Gate” limited print framed at this little shop, and it came out pretty spiffy, with the frame and matting matched to the bluish silver of the aircraft, the deep blue of the water, and the red of the Golden Gate Bridge (actually called International orange) and the wing stripes. The aircraft is the Boeing B-314 flying boat, in this case the Pan American Airways California Clipper, NC-18602, which made regular runs between San Francisco and Hawaii – a nineteen-hour leg – before continuing to farther destinations.

Only twelve B-314s were produced by Boeing, all for Pan Am, but it was – and still is – considered the acme of flying boat technology. The initial six had a range of 3,500 miles with fuel capacity of 4,200 gallons and the second group of six could travel 5,200 miles with 5,400 gallons, both variants far exceeding the range of other aircraft of the day. Travel on the clippers was strictly deluxe, with ticket prices comparable to Concorde’s and meals catered by top-notch hotels.

The B-314 model on my desk, in the same 1:200 scale as the B-17 and B-747, is also of NC-18602. The “Fly to South Sea Isles” poster is a high quality limited edition reproduction of a 1930s Pan Am poster that was made about twenty years ago [some weeks after writing this, I found my Hansa Editions print was actually produced thirty years ago]. An original copy of the 1938 George Lawler poster – not the original painting, just a poster – recently sold for US$20,000 at auction, where the listing read:

One of the most iconic and desirable of all the early Pan Am flying boat posters, this image of the Boeing 314 Flying Clipper landing in a tropical lagoon captured, and continues to capture, the imagination of travelers. The location shown on the poster is an imaginary composite of several renowned bays throughout the South Pacific. It has been speculated that the view is Tahiti, Pago Pago and/or Diamond Head, however, the physical characteristics depicted do not coincide with the actual geography of any of these islands. Lawler most likely worked from photographs to derive a fantasy collage of a location infused with realistic details from various islands. It is rare to find this poster with text. We have found only two other examples at auction.

Edited to add: After I included this auction description, I did some research because the mountains in the poster seemed awfully familiar to me, and I now think Lawler had a specific place in mind when he designed that poster. The details here:

The tail end of the gallery shows in detail some of the photos and items on display. I had 16×20 prints made of the three high resolution Apollo photographs – done beautifully by Shutterfly and Snapfish, I’ll add. Of the three drawings of mine on the wall, just one, the woman holding a newborn Bengal kitten, is my original pencil drawing – the other two are from high resolution scans I made before presenting the original drawings to their subjects.

Click on any image to enter the gallery, and from there you can view a 1920-wide version of any photo by clicking this at the lower right (you may need to scroll down to see it):