Art in Motion


As a firm believ­er in form fol­lows func­tion, I have to say, air­planes are some beau­ti­ful engi­neer­ing. That’s why I was excit­ed to check out MotoArt with Ben from Atlas Obscu­ra last Sat­ur­day. Locat­ed right by LAX air­port, this com­pa­ny takes old air­plane parts and turns them into high-end art and fur­ni­ture pieces. I had not heard of them before the tour, but was sur­prised to find they have had a lot of pub­lic­i­ty over their sto­ried his­to­ry — they’ve been cov­ered in numer­ous mag­a­zines, start­ing with a spread in Max­im and cul­mi­nat­ing with a show on Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel called Wing Nuts!

Dave, one of the co-own­ers and co-founders, led the tour. He and his part­ner Dono­van start­ed as sign guys work­ing most­ly for the theme parks in the area. One day, their scrap met­al guy hap­pened to have an old air­plane pro­peller in his truck, and Dono­van bought it for $100, pol­ished it to a mir­ror fin­ish, and sold it as a free­stand­ing sculp­ture for $1,000. Just like that, the seed was plant­ed. After mak­ing more pro­peller sculp­tures and sell­ing them at a show for $6,000-$10,000 each, the two decid­ed to make this their full-time job.

They have had some inter­est­ing ups and downs along the way. It used to be that when a mil­i­tary air­plane was decom­mis­sioned, a mini-bone­yard would form around it. The scrap­pers would tear the air­plane apart, and the gov­ern­ment would buy back some of the still func­tion­al parts, and then the rest were auc­tioned off to pri­vate par­ties. How­ev­er, Iran was caught try­ing to buy parts from an F‑16, and the gov­ern­ment decid­ed that nation­al secu­ri­ty demands that any­thing remote­ly mil­i­tary could no longer be sold off. There are a cou­ple of flaws in the log­ic, though. First, any­thing pre­vi­ous­ly decom­mis­sioned and junked is still OK to be resold. Sec­ond, we sell these same air­planes to our allies around the world, and there are no restric­tions on how they deal with their decom­mis­sioned air­planes. In short, it was secu­ri­ty the­ater that just made it more dif­fi­cult for MotoArt to get their hands on sup­plies for new pieces. That said, MotoArt did take out a big loan and buy up every­thing mil­i­tary that they could, and they still have con­tacts and leads to junk­yards with mil­i­tary parts sit­ting around. But they also great­ly expand­ed their use of com­mer­cial air­plane parts, which are unrestricted.

Here are a cou­ple of my favorite pieces from the tour:

B-25 Bomber Desk

First is the B‑25 Bomber Desk, from the air­planes per­haps most famous for the Doolit­tle Raid of Tokyo dur­ing World War II. The fab­ric skin was peeled off to expose the alu­minum frame, which was pol­ished and in some cas­es pow­der coat­ed dif­fer­ent col­ors. Dave told us that since they got the parts as-is, some of these desk have orig­i­nal bul­let holes in them still.

C-119 Flying Boxcar

The oth­er is the C‑119 Fly­ing Box­car Para­troop­er Door Cof­fee Table. While there is not an icon­ic mis­sion that these air­planes were used on, the door and the desk are quite beautiful.

It is a shame I could not even afford a small end table from MotoArt. Dave joked that even as the own­er of the busi­ness, he has trou­ble afford­ing his own prod­ucts — a very nice prob­lem to have. Next time you are by LAX with some time to kill, think about swing­ing down to El Segun­do and check­ing this place out.

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