The oeuvre of Charles Dellschau (born in 1830 in Prussia) proves witness to the profound break caused by the arrival of modernity at the beginning of the twentieth century, sealed by the consequences of the First World War. His earliest drawings and collages reflect the technological progress at the end of the nineteenth century: balloons and airplanes filling the sky—an expression of man’s desire to master heaven and earth. Dellschau, a retired butcher, closely followed various early aeronautical adventures, thanks to his subscriptions to several magazines and newspapers of the time (Scientific American, the Houston Daily Post, the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Press). From 1899 to 1922, he described and drew the story of a secret club of aeronauts (the Sonora Aero Club) that would have existed in California between 1850 and 1860. Dellschau claimed that he and other members of the club built, flew, and then dismantled at least two flying machines. In accordance with the club’s rule of secrecy, Dellschau showed the drawings to no one outside his family. Flying Machine 4575, an ink drawing on a penciled grid, is what Dellschau termed a “Broad Cutt”—a cross section that reveals the mechanics of the vessel. Dellschau’s faith in technological progress was lost with the onset of the war, which saw the invention of both aerial and gas warfare. The photos and articles Dellschau glued onto his works possess real epic power; their narrative force is heightened by the interweaving of world history—clippings about memorable events, mostly aeronautical exploits or disasters—and Dellschau’s autofiction.
Valérie Rousseau, “Flying Machines (4575: Broad Cutt/4576: Vogel),” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.