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.
The Maritime Gallery at Mystic Seaport