"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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. …