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Flying high again: Calgary artist's airport carousel installation finds new home at Hangar Flight Museum

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By Scott Strasser

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Calgary artist’s nostalgic toy airplane sculptures have landed in their new home at the Hangar Flight Museum.

The six miniature wind-up airplanes were installed Sept. 7 in the aviation museum, where they are suspended in a truss system in the facility’s mezzanine.

Sculptor Jeff de Boer said the Hangar Flight Museum is a fitting place for his iconic tin planes, which circled above passengers at a departures gate at the Calgary International Airport for more than 20 years.

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“My dream has always been to have my work in museums,” he said. “Really, the Hangar Flight Museum was at the top of my list right from the beginning.”

Commissioned by the Calgary International Airport in 2001, the wind-up planes were suspended from a pair of carousels in YYC’s domestic terminal for 22 years.

But this April, de Boer broke the news that the Calgary Airport Authority was decommissioning the public art piece to make way for continued terminal upgrades.

In an attempt to find a new home for the planes, the longtime artist put a call out on social media to see if anyone would be willing to accept the sculptures.

It was a call the Hangar Flight Museum was happy to answer.

“When the story broke, we were contacted — messages, emails, phone calls — from many in the community that these giant tin toys needed a home,” said Brian Desjardins, the Hangar Flight Museum’s executive director. “Of course, we agreed that we’d certainly be a great home for these giant carousels.”

After the sculptures were disassembled and removed from the airport, they were kept in off-site storage until the museum was able to install them this week.

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However, due to space constraints, the current display in the museum is only part of the full piece. Desjardins noted the display doesn’t include the two carousel bases, which remain in off-site storage.

As a permanent solution, he said the museum is preparing to embark on a campaign this fall and winter to fundraise for a new $60-million facility that will replace its “tent hangar.”

“We call it the tent hangar because it’s essentially a fabric shell of a building,” Desjardins explained. “It’s susceptible to snow loads, wind storms and cold temperatures. It’s constantly being fixed or repaired.”

Jeff de Boer
Jeff de Boer works on a piece that was introduced to Calgary International Airport’s domestic terminal in 2002. Photo by Jeff de Boer /Supplied

The new facility, once built, would be triple the size of the tent hangar, and be able to incorporate the carousel bases for de Boer’s sculptures.

The project already received partial backing from Calgary city council, approved $14.5 million toward the facility in 2022.

Desjardins said the museum is hoping to leverage that support to secure a matching grant from the provincial government, adding the rest would be sourced through the private sector, philanthropists, the aviation community and the federal government.

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“This is not a wish, dream, or a hope,” Desjardins said. “This has to happen and it will be built in the next three years.”

De Boer said he spent more than 5,000 hours sculpting the planes by hand. He said of all the pieces he’s completed throughout his career, the tin toy airplanes are probably the most memorable, given their recognizability and the impact they’ve had on Calgarians.

“They were designed to be really public, really playful,” he said. “I wanted it for young and old people to have memories with it.”

He added the wind-up planes have served that purpose, even more than he ever imagined they would, for more than two decades.

Now, he’s excited to see his works entertain new audiences at the Hangar Flight Museum for years to come.

“Millions of Calgarians and visitors have seen it,” he said. “When news came out that it was being decommissioned, I got so many emails from people thanking me and telling me their stories. I don’t think that many artists get that kind of feedback for their work, so it was an extraordinary 21 years for that piece, absolutely.”

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