I’ve been blessed in more ways than I can count, from my family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, to the gifts God has bestowed on me, however unremarkable they may be and as undeserving as I am to receive them. As I pursue my love of maritime art farther and reflect back on the forces that drove me in this direction, I can say with absolute clarity the point at which this seed was planted.
My great grandparents, Tom and Fannie Hoyt lived in a modest home on Plum Avenue in Troy, New York, and my mother would walk my two sisters and I there in fair weather, or pull us in a sled in the winter from our upstairs apartment on Billings Avenue, a half-mile or so from their house. Among my earliest memories are fuzzy glimpses back to their living room - a blue-green couch of 1950s vintage, atop of which sat a small faded black pillow with gold-braided embroidery. The pillow was filled with long-since dried balsam needles which, when crunched gently in your hands would release the most beautiful scent - like that of a pristine pine forest after a summer rain. And directly above that pillow hanging in the center of the wall was a framed picture of a ship.
Hokey as it may sound, I immediately loved that picture. An unnamed sailing ship, from some unknown place sailing in a stormy sea to some other unknown destination, with who knows what happening in between. The countless stories and adventures gleaned from the ambiguous aspects of that image filled my head and occupied me for hours. Every visit to my great-grandparent’s home was eagerly anticipated, at least in part, so that I might sit and immerse myself in front of that painting. What was it like to stand on the fore deck at the moment this image was captured? Who were the sailors braving the storm? What must it have felt like as the ship bobbed and weaved its way through the undulating seas, rising toward the sky at one moment, and an instant later plummeting into the back of the next frothy wave, the shock and vibrations transmitted through the ships timbers into the courageous souls standing unsteadily on deck? The sea thereafter held an inescapable romanticism that’s remained with me all of my life.
When my great-grandparents’ long, fruitful lives had come to their natural end, the picture found itself hanging on the hallway wall of my grandparents’ home on Lucille Court in Wynantskill, just a couple of miles from the Plum Avenue address. I was in my teens then, and my grandparents would employ me in mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, digging out tree stumps, or whatever else my old-time farmer grandfather could find to expend my energies in more useful ways than I was otherwise more naturally inclined. When the work was done, I would pass the picture hanging in the hallway, pause a moment and take it all in. My grandmother would see me stop at the image, and note my interest. As the years passed and my own adventures on the sea with the Navy were well under way, my grandmother never forgot about my connection to the picture. When the sad day arrived and my grandmother lived no longer, the picture was to be handed down to me, and where it now hangs in my living room.
The picture itself, as I came to find out later, was painted by American/Canadian artist R. Atkinson Fox and apparently sold in the simple but, to my eye, elegant frame it’s existed in for generations. The colors have noticeably faded, at least from the way they’ve appeared in my memories of a half-century ago, but have lost nothing of the magic that’s held me from the first moment I first saw it. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Prospero, truly the stuff dreams are made of.
Now that I’ve arrived at a place in my life where’s I’m afforded the opportunities to pursue the meaningful rather than the functionally expedient and financially necessary, I turn my efforts seriously and with conviction toward maritime painting. It’s life turning full circle for me, returning to that magical moment. As I learn, practice, fall short and try again, it’s my hope and now greatest aspiration to create a piece of art that someday will speak to someone as this painting spoke to me. Maybe a small child who looks at something I create, feels the magic and finds in it the seeds of a life of adventure and infinite possibility. That’s a mighty lofty goal, but one well worth pursuing.