Thursday, October 25, 2007

Showcase planes: Heirlooms to be cherished

The first time I entered the office of Showcase Airplane Co., what instantly struck me was the sight of plane replicas rested on a waxed wood table. At first glance, they seem to be made of resin, hard plastic, or metal.

With the glossy lacquer finish and intricate curves, I’d never suspect that they are made of wood, Philippine mahogany, as a matter of a fact. And these are the desktop model planes hand-carved by many craftsmen of Angeles City, Pampanga, in the Philippines, the former home of Clark Air Base.

With my one and a half stint as copy writer and PR staff of Showcase, I realized that only craftsmen with decades of experience in intricately carving wood blocks into planes, 30 years to be exact, can make such an imposing work of art. A company like Mastercraft Collection , the US-registered business of Showcase, and other entrepreneurs take pride in these men loyal to their craft.

Just before the end of the Vietnam War, wood carving is already a flourishing trade in the Pampanga province. Most businesses had also been doing custom-made wall plaques and name plates for American service men of Clark Air Base. Lito Hallare, founder of Showcase was one of those who saw the potential of the trade so bored in New York, he went home to Angeles City and left a 7-year career stint in advertising. He tested the waters and produced toy planes.

When the American servicemen’s passion shifted to replicating the aircraft they have piloted and loved, the business evolved into plane modeling initially using Narra wood as material.

It soon created an industry that provided three square meals for thousands of local craftsmen and that sent generations of children to school. As I delved into how each model is made, I gradually understood what goes on when one starts to create a model plane not only as a work of art but as a source of income for a family- scale drawing done by an artist or modeler, hand-carving based on the scale with kiln-dried mahogany as material, sanding until the piece is smooth, hand painting with concern on accuracy and details, and lacquer coating and finishing. Though I never had the chance to visit the factory and witness first-hand how each is done, the complexity was enough to make me at awe.

As I frequently touch these models when each is measured for our online specifications and as I wrote about their place in aviation history, I always imagined the degree of talent, and the amount of effort and time that gave birth to each model. So each piece is not just a product. It is a masterpiece and an heirloom that deserve to be cherished.

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