By Larry W. Bledsoe
Most aircraft that served in combat zones during World War II sported colorful nose art of some kind. Some depicted popular cartoon characters of the day, others showed scantily clad women with captions that often had a double meaning, while still others had some other meaningful message such as Bud Mahurin’s “Spirit of Atlantic City.” In fact, several books have been published about this unique form of art whose style is reminiscent of the famous “Varga Girls” paintings.
Today on Cable Airport (CCB) in Upland, Calif., twin sisters Jerri Bergen and Terri Polley have set up shop in the corner of a large hangar and are bringing history to life. On the back wall of their workroom is a large mural. Polley said she was working one day and that “blank” was bothering her, so she painted something on it, which called for more. Meanwhile, Bergen got caught up in the project and added her part. It was an unplanned project that demonstrates their teamwork, talent and creative thinking.
Their first large mural was a 60-foot-high painting of the Montclair High School mascot on the side of the school gym. They were 15 at the time. Finally, after years of doing volunteer and freelance jobs for homes, businesses and museums, they decided to go into the business fulltime. As a result, Victory Girl, specializing in nose art, jackets and murals, came into being last summer.
“Our husbands practically live at the airport, so they built us this studio in the hangar so we could spend more time at the airport with them,” Bergen said.
The largest painting they’ve done to date is a 50-foot-wide by 10-foot-high mural on the side of the Mindrum Precision, Inc. building in nearby Rancho Cucamonga. The company wanted something to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. In the center of the mural is the historic Virginia Dare Winery building that’s located along historic Route 66. The left side of the mural shows the orchards and vineyards that covered the then-rural area 50 years ago. On the right side of the mural is a futuristic view of the area as they envision it might become. They’re working on the conceptual artwork for a large mural planned for a local supermarket that’s celebrating the company’s 100th anniversary.
Bergen said she likes to do the large paintings with broad brush strokes, while Polley likes to do the small details. A good example of Polley’s handiwork is the flight jacket she recently did in honor of Erik Shilling, an AVG “Flying Tiger” who kept a hangar on Cable Airport for years until he passed away in 2002. The sisters often, but not always, work together on their paintings, but the murals are definitely a team effort. They work well together as a team and the net results are spectacular.
Several years ago they did some work on the Santa Monica Museum’s DC-3, which is the largest aircraft they have worked on to date. In addition to the Santa Monica Museum, they’ve done murals for the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino and have been contacted by an out-of-state museum about doing multiple murals for them.
In addition to the DC-3, they’ve painted artwork on several aircraft including a Swift, Cessna 172s, a T-6, an Ercoupe and Piper Tri-Pacer, and Mike and Terri Polley’s Navion. Currently, they’re working on nose art for a couple more aircraft. First, they do a conceptual rendering for the client. In this case the nose art is titled “Jealous Mistress.” Once the customer approves the concept, they’ll paint it on his Beech 18. Bergen said that while they use scantily clad women in some of their work, they’re always tastefully done.
They create unique nose art for their customers. For example, one features a fat rat dressed as a pirate. They also reproduce famous World War II nose art on their customers’ aircraft, when requested, and on metal panels for wall hangings. In an unusual twist, they’re designing nose art depicting a handsome man for a woman pilot.
Per her husband’s request, Polley painted “Late Nite Liason” nose art on their polished metal Navion. She explained the reason the word liaison was misspelled was because that was the way it was spelled on the original artwork, which happened to be on a WWII Stinson L-5 Grasshopper. On the pilot’s side of the cockpit, she painted “Mike ‘Wannabomber’ Polley” and on her side, “Terri ‘Sketch’ Polley.”
The most unusual painting they’ve done was of frogs. The customer had several large and heavy cement frogs in his yard that he wanted painted to look like real frogs.
When asked how they got into nose art and murals, the twins replied thoughtfully. Since they, like their husbands, love airplanes and flying, it was a natural thing to do. They pointed to a mural on the other wall of their workroom titled “For the Boys,” which sums up their reasons for picking this unique art media.
“That’s who it’s really for,” they agreed.
For more information, visit [http://www.victory-girl.com].