Art: Shipping Center

  • Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Donald Demers’ first submission to a juried maritime art exhibit fared only

slightly better than the painting’s subject. The Thomas W. Lawson was a huge,

seven-masted, early-20th-century schooner that naval historians regard as an

intriguing failure. It launched in 1902 and wrecked five years later in a storm

off the coast of England.

“It’s an ugly, ungainly vessel,” says

Demers, who entered his depiction of the ship in the 1979 Mystic International

Marine Art Exhibition, a show that is sponsored by the Maritime Gallery at

Mystic Seaport museum in Mystic, Conn. “Why I chose to paint it, I don’t know.”

Demers adds that his painting, though it did not win any prizes, was selected

for display and did find a buyer. “It was sold to a descendant of the captain of

the vessel,” he says, “hopefully never to be seen again.”

Demers may dismiss

his Lawson painting, but it did initiate his involvement with the Mystic

gallery, and that connection eventually allowed him to curtail his career as an

illustrator and pursue maritime art full-time. In 1988, the gallery offered

Demers his first one-man exhibition. On opening night, he sold 19 of the 22

works that he painted for the show. “Prior to the show, I worked [on marine

paintings] weekends and nights and whenever I could fit it in,” he says. “After

that, I was a marine painter who did illustrations.”
 
Demers has continued to

enter the Mystic International exhibit and has won 16 prizes, most recently

earning the 2006 Maritime Heritage Award for Pilot’s Peril, an image depicting a

schooner in danger of being rammed by a steamship. He sold the painting for

$18,000 during the run of the show.

The 28th annual edition of the Mystic

International exhibit opened September 29 and will continue through November 11

at the Maritime Gallery. The gallery received 400 entries and chose 140 works

for the exhibit. While most of the entries are paintings, drawings, and

sculptures, the gallery also accepts scrimshaw, engraved pieces of ivory. A

panel of two jurors will decide which entries will receive prizes. Every artwork

on display is for sale.

With the exception of works such as Frauke Klatt’s

No Wind, a watercolor that presents a trio of sails as three fanglike points

against a blotchy blue sky, most of the paintings depict realistic scenes.

Original oil paintings by Geoff Hunt, the British artist whose images appear on

the covers of Patrick O’Brian’s novels about Captain Jack Aubrey, hang on the

gallery walls, as do the colorful, folk art–like port town scenes that Maryland

artist Carol Dyer paints. Both artists’ works sell swiftly. Some of the proceeds

from each purchase benefit the 78-year-old museum.

The gallery is open

year-round, but the international show is the most prestigious event on its

calendar. Demers plans to enter the 2007 contest, but in midsummer he was still

mulling over what he might paint. “Right now I’m kicking ideas around, but I

know it’ll be a vessel on the water,” he says. “Maybe a yachting scene, or a

pilot schooner.” One thing is certain: It will not be the Thomas W.

Lawson.

Donald Demers
207.748.3105, www­.donalddemers.com
The Maritime

Gallery at Mystic Seaport
860.572.5388, www­.mysticseaport.org/gallery

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