David Abbey Paige

American, 1901–1979

Halo; Wing of the Fokker airplane crashed on
March 12, 1934

Oil on board
16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm)
The Ohio State University Archives, Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd

David Abbey Paige was already an established artist and graphic designer when he was commissioned to paint the world’s largest cyclorama for Luna Park in New York City’s Coney Island in 1930. The subject was the expedition base camp of Admiral Richard Byrd, the celebrated explorer who made the first flight to the South Pole in 1929. 

Scientific inquiry and the American presence in Antarctica was pioneered by Byrd (1888–1957), who led five expeditions to the continent from 1928 to 1956. The explorer’s accomplishments garnered widespread media attention and captured the public’s imagination.

To complete his panoramic painting, Paige contacted crew members, studied expedition accounts, and personally conducted scientific research. His efforts won him a spot as the official artist on Byrd’s second voyage (1933-1935). He introduced himself as the “Official Artist on the Scientific Staff for Color Research.” 

In this painting, the artist depicts a disastrous takeoff from the expedition’s base camp. The sun’s radiance looms over an isolated wing rising from the ice. The artist interprets parhelia, the same optical phenomenon captured by Edward Wilson in moonlight, when ice particles in the cold air refract light from the sun (or moon). Figure are mere specs that provide scale within this mystical landscape.