Kenneth Lochhead's "Flight and Its Allegories" and the Gander International Airport: Background information when reading The Night Stages

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The Night Stages

by Jane Urquhart

The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart X
The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2015, 416 pages
    Dec 2016, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Kenneth Lochhead's "Flight and Its Allegories" and the Gander International Airport

This article relates to The Night Stages

Print Review

If you flew on a transatlantic flight at some point in the mid-twentieth century, odds are you found yourself at Gander International Airport in Gander, Newfoundland, on at least one leg of your journey. For years, before the advent of wide-body jets with higher fuel capacity, Gander was the main refueling stop for aircraft bound for the United States from Europe, and was consequently one of the most important airports in the world. Much later, Gander's airport obtained some small (and bittersweet) measure of fame in 2001 when nearly forty international flights and more than six thousand passengers were grounded at Gander after all North American flights were halted on 9/11.

Kenneth Lochhead's If you ever have found yourself at the Gander airport, you might recall its sophisticated, Modernist lounge area and the massive, 72-foot mural that dominates the space. Painted by Canadian artist Kenneth Lochhead in egg tempera (it required more than 500 eggs to paint), the mural, entitled "Flight and Its Allegories," was painted during the terminal's construction in 1958 and 1959. The mural is full of numerous human figures, including many children. Its figures are solid and impassive, seemingly at odds with the notion of flight (despite the numerous birds and birdlike creatures that also fill the space), and they are representational (depicting images as realistically as possible) at a time when more "cutting-edge" artists were discarding classical techniques (not to mention fussy media like egg tempera.)

The Gander mural was painted relatively early by Lochhead; he went on to have a decades-spanning career as an artist and educator, credited with helping to establish contemporary art in Canada. He died in 2006, leaving behind many works of public art, including, of course the Gander airport mural.

Kenneth Lochhead's The future of the mural – and the striking mid-century airport lounge of which it is the showpiece – is in doubt, however. The Gander International Airport is a far cry from "The Crossroads of the World" it once was, and its governing agency has expressed interest in downsizing to a smaller terminal that is more appropriate to its current much-reduced passenger volume. A 2014 announcement that the terminal would be demolished spurred numerous grassroots campaigns for its preservation, including Canada's National Trust naming the site as one of its top ten endangered landmarks. Early in 2015, the Gander International Airport Authority announced that their new building plans would not require demolition of the original departures terminal after all, and that it would remain intact for the time being. But its future seems far from certain – and its commemoration in Jane Urquhart's new novel that much more important.

Image of Kenneth Lochhead's "Flight and Its Allegories" at the Gander International Airport, courtesy of Bookshelf Reviews.
Close-up of "Flight and Its Allegories", courtesy of The Star.

Filed under Music and the Arts

Article by Norah Piehl

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Night Stages. It originally ran in August 2015 and has been updated for the December 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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