Seascapes New Cummer Exhibit Presents the Art of Ships and the Sea

Article excerpt

"I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,"

the poet John Masefield declared.

Those are pretty much the sentiments of the American Society of

Marine Artists as well.

The group, whose exhibition "Romancing the Sea" opens today at

The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, is dedicated to portraying

the sea and its ships in art.

The rules can be relaxed to include an occasional lake or

harbor, marine birds on wing, or even some denizens of the deep

like the humpbacks whose size dwarfs the whaling ship above the

sea's surface.

But ship or no ship, marine art means water. Water is depicted

in every way imaginable: shimmering, cresting, surging,

crashing, lapping placidly at the ocean's edge.

The exhibition of more than 60 paintings and three-dimensional

pieces takes up all of the museum's riverside Terry Gallery.

"From stem to stern," Cummer director Kahren Arbitman joked in a

recent interview.

The society mounts this major show every six years, choosing

different museums in seaport cities. The previous exhibition was

held at Mystic, Conn., and the society selected the Frye Art

Museum in Seattle for the current show.

When Arbitman heard the exhibit was going to the West Coast,

she approached the society about having it travel to the Cummer

afterward.

"We lobbied them and said, `There are two coasts,' " Arbitman

said. "What better place than Jacksonville, with its extensive

interest in all things marine from the Navy to the shipyards? We

told them we could generate some interest here that would be

hard to match in other places. And they went for it."

Arbitman pointed out that marine art has a very long history

and was extremely popular in 19th century America. But in

recent years, although artists continued to produce work in this

tradition, the artists weren't getting into exhibitions, which

often focused on more contemporary themes and more abstract or

expressionist styles.

In 1979, a small group of artists formed the American Society

of Marine Artists to combat that problem and began to sponsor a

recurring exhibition. The group now has more than 600 members.

Although all members are dedicated to promoting marine art and

maritime history, the artistic subjects and styles are extremely

diverse.

William G. Muller is one of the traditionalists with his

depiction of the square-rigged Wavertree being eased by steam

tugboat into a slip on the East River on Manhattan's South

Street.

Muller grew up watching New York's busy port in the 1940s, he

wrote in the show's catalog, and that inspired him to become a

historical marine painter.

"Having since witnessed the dramatic decline in shipping and

the ending of the colorful steam era in the port, I now find

myself primarily drawn to recapturing more satisfying subject

matter: the beauty, romance and atmosphere of our

turn-of-the-century ships and harbors. …