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Gallery at O.C. Great Park celebrates artistic past of El Toro Marine base

Gallery at O.C. Great Park celebrates artistic past of El Toro Marine base
Art by Nolen Lee, a contract artist with Disney, depicts a bull flying over farmland and mountains. His piece, other artwork and historic photos featured in the OC Great Park's "Walt and the Flying Bull" gallery celebrate the WWII insignia designed by Walt Disney Productions. (Nolen Lee)

The "Walt and the Flying Bull" gallery at the Orange County Great Park is a homecoming of sorts for the land's artistic and military history.

During World War II, Walt Disney Productions produced around 1,200 designs for American and allied military units, including the El Toro "Flying Bull" logo for the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro that formerly stood on the Great Park grounds.

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The artwork donated by Disney graced the sides of planes, ships, uniform patches and the buildings on military bases.

The gallery showcases historic photos and digital prints of the insignia Disney artists created during the war, plus photos of El Toro's opening in 1942 taken by First American archivist Bob Blankman and photos after El Toro's closing in 1999 taken by Orange County-based The Legacy Project.

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Images such as Mickey Mouse flying on a goose, Donald Duck with aviation goggles and Snow White nursing a bandaged Dopey are on display at the Great Park Gallery in the Palm Court Arts Complex.

According to city of Irvine program coordinator Kevin Staniec, the idea for the gallery was inspired by conversations with Great Park visitors about the El Toro insignia.

"It's usually the veterans or family members of veterans who spent time here in the base or know the history of the base who want to share those stories of what the insignia meant," Staniec said. "With that concept, we really started to think about how to tell that narrative. It's really a story of connecting and community."

In addition to the featured photography and insignia, current artists from Walt Disney Productions, Pixar Animation Studios and Marvel Entertainment contributed 11 pieces of contemporary artwork to the gallery, inspired by the World War II designs.

Linnea Motts, a designer for mobile games at the Walt Disney Company, said Great Park staff reached out to her about designing a piece in the spring.

With her childhood memories of falling asleep on her father's shoulder while watching the Navy Blue Angels flight team at El Toro, she said her response to the Great Park's inquiry was a given.

"I said 'Absolutely' … it really touched home and brought everything full circle," said Motts, who lived in Irvine for 24 years.

Motts' piece, a digital media work she created on a computer, depicts the flying bull in a rubber hose cartoon-style, a type of hand-drawn animation that was prevalent in the 1920s. She also added geometric patterns to the artwork.

"The idea was to try and take something classic and modernize it by adding something more urban to it," Motts said.

Nolan Lee, a contract artist with Disney, created a water color painting of the flying bull soaring over mountains and checkered farmland.

"I was researching and doing Google searches on what the airbase looked like to find inspiration on what to draw," said Lee, whose grandfather served in the Air Force during World War II. "I came across a few photos of bombers flying over land and after a while, I thought it'd be cool to put the bull in some kind of interesting environment where it gives the viewer a lot to see but it's simple and the background is detailed."

If You Go

What: "Walt and the Flying Bull"

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until Aug. 13

Where: Orange County Great Park, 6950 Marine Way, Irvine

Cost: Free

Information: (949) 724-6880 or visit ocgp.org

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10

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