For centuries, boats have lured artists to their canvases just as surely as the sea has lured sailors onto boats. A juried exhibit running through Oct. 23 at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport pays tribute to the relationship between artists and boats and the artistry of boatbuilding.
“The Art of the Boat” features more than 50 boat-themed works in a variety of media, including photographs, sculpture and paintings. The pieces in the exhibit were chosen by three jurors—art writer Carl Little, artist Eric Hopkins, and yacht designer Robert Stevens—from more than 300 submissions. The exhibit is one of two this summer celebrating the Penobscot Marine Museum’s 75th anniversary. It honors the memory of Maine artist, author and boatbuilder George S. Wasson, who was a friend of one of the museum’s founders.
Artists’ attraction to boats has gone on for centuries and isn’t likely to abate, says juror Carl Little. “I think (that attraction will) go on forever as long as there are floating objects with fine lines,” he says. “It goes from the sailboat to the tugboat to the super tanker. I think there’s something romantic but there’s also something in the shape that is also appealing.”
The idea of an exhibit recognizing the artistry of boats and artists’ fascination with sailing vessels came, in part, from John Ruskin’s introduction to “Harbours of England,” published in 1856, says Ben Fuller, Penobscot Marine Museum curator. Ruskin suggests that no artist can truly do justice to the perfection of a boat. “A ship is a noble thing, and a cathedral a noble thing,” he wrote, “but a painted ship or a painted cathedral is not a noble thing. Art which reduplicates art is necessarily second-rate art.”
Looking at the work in “The Art of the Boat,” it would be hard to agree with Ruskin. Stranded boat skeletons in barren landscapes evoke the danger of sailing the oceans. The pure joy of being on a boat bubbles through the wooden sculpture of a dog proudly sitting in a dingy.
“The challenge for the jury was to select work that showed the art of the artist as well as the art of the boatbuilder,” said Fuller.
For Camden-based photographer Alison Langley, that challenge was just part of her everyday work. Langley, who has a photograph in the exhibit, has been photographing boats for 25 years and lately has been involved in projects documenting boatbuilding along the Maine coast.
“Watching the progress of a new build or a restoration through the lens really shows what an art boatbuilding is,” she says. “The craftsmanship and talent at Maine’s boatyards is amazing, and it is very rewarding to be able to capture the beauty of another’s artwork.”
Boats are attractive subjects, Langley says, because they offer such variety. And the variety offered by boats translates into cornucopia of artistic portrayals.
“Each artist looks at a boat or a vessel through their own personal lens, their own personal aesthetic,” says Little, “and how it turns out—there’s such great variety.” q
“The Art of the Boat” can be viewed online at http://www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org.