Art for History’s Sake

Share this:
Tony Sheets’ installation at Corinthian Way in the airport area depicts the history of flight. Photo by Ann Chatillon

The new art installation mounted on a wall at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Corinthian Way is not only an eye-catching piece of artwork, it’s also a history lesson about the evolution of flight.

Artist Tony Sheets of Grants Pass, Ore., created the three-dimensional art, which displays scale-sized engineering/aeronautical drawings and five aircraft that appear to be flying “out” of the south wall at the retail center. The scene shows how the art of flight has progressed through the years, from the bi-plane to the space shuttle.

“I wanted to create an installation relevant to the area,” Sheets said. “The aircraft design and manufacturing industry has had a long and distinguished history in Orange County and has made a significant impact on the entire world.”

It’s important to remember and learn from history, he said.

“It’s all about how it’s presented that makes it interesting,” Sheets said. “Art is a great way to tell history.”

It can be visual and intellectual, he added.

While he has done other designs depicting the evolution of cities or of other methods of travel, none were in this particular medium, he said. The aircraft are colorful castings made from resin coated foam.

“It was a fun way to approach it,” he said.

He used a heavy spray paint that is waterproof and does not eat at the foam, so he had an extensive color palette to work with and was able to play with the colors.

This is the third application of artwork on that particular wall, Sheets said, but this should be a permanent piece. As long as the building is standing, he said, the evolution of flight art installation will be there.

The entire project, from concept to completion, took about a year, Sheets said.

There were a few challenges along the way, he added, including having to get approval by the city to allow the art to extend out from the wall, he explained. When they got that, he decided to create something three-dimensional.

“I wanted something that had impact and scale,” he said.

Everything worked out and the project came out how Sheets had wanted.

The best way to enjoy the colorful wall, according to Sheets, is to turn left from MacArthur Boulevard onto Corinthian Way, just before passing by Staples, while driving north toward the airport from Newport Beach.

The best time to view the sculpture is between late morning and afternoon.

“It’s all about the light and how the light hits it,” Sheets said.

They picked that particular wall, the south wall, because it gets really good sunlight, Sheets said.

That’s something he learned from his father, noted American artist, Millard Sheets. The senior Sheets designed many of the buildings and mosaic artwork for Home Savings of America and always tried to find south facing buildings and walls, Tony Sheets said.

The art piece was commissioned by Sanderson J. Ray Development, owner of the Corinthian Way center.

“I have known Tony and admired his art for many years,” said James “Walkie” Ray, one Sanderson J. Ray Development’s partners. “Indeed, he is a friend and naturally comes to mind whenever the opportunity presents itself to enhance the visual aspect of our business.”

Sheets hopes the art installation will encourage people to drive into the center and check out the stores in the retail center.

The installation was formally unveiled Oct. 17.

Sheets also spends about three months each year in the area for the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona. He runs the fine arts department at Fairplex, named The Millard Sheets Center for the Arts, after his father was the fine arts program director for 26 years.

The younger Sheets, who recently turned 70, just finished his sixth year at the fair.

Recently, he’s been doing more personal work less client oriented work, he said. He is also working on getting his website,, back up and running, hopefully before the end of the year, he said.

Sheets has created over 52  pieces of commissioned artwork since starting out in 1972. His work is featured in California, Arkansas, Hawaii and Texas.

He paints, sculpts and designs small and large scale art. Sheets is a mixed media artist, creating sculptures out of a variety of materials like cast and fabricated metals, copper repousse’, cast stone, poured concrete, applied sand and cement, and resins.


Share this: