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The mid-Atlantic is rich with maritime traditions; this month’s essay comes from Steve Rogers, an artist living and working against the backdrop of Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. Regular Forum readers will note that this is the third time a Forum essay has been written by a working artist; Steve is a model ship builder and oil painter living in Lewes, Delaware. His essay here highlights hisexperience and inspirations for building wooden ship models based on the vernacular boat types surrounding him on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Forum readers can find Steve on the web (http://www.delawarebyhand.org/rogers.htm). He is a nationally recognized ship model builder, has written five books on the subject, teaches at the Woodenboat School in Maine, and won a certificate of commendation at theyear 2000 Modelbuilders Competition at the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Steve is also a signature member of the American Society of Marine Artists and is the recipient of the 2005 Established Artist Fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts.

“The only thing holding it together was water pressure and paint”:
Building and Painting Ship Models

It is hard to explain how aninterest draws you in. The more you learn about a subject, the more you want to learn. One detail always leads to another, and I follow them willingly. I have simply always loved boats and water, and I am fascinated with the history of shipbuilding. I never tire of walking around boatyards and docks, taking pictures and making sketches. All of my work is based on my interest and research. Boththe paintings and ship models are the result of time spent in the field talking to watermen and ship builders.
I first tried building ship models while in the Air Force, since most bases have hobby shops for their personnel. I’d grown up painting and drawing, and always thought of my artwork as a comfortable hobby and source of spending money. I don’t know what drew me to models, but Itried using base woodworking equipment to cut lumber into scale sizes with which to build ships. At first I tried a few kits, but then began to order plans and try to build ships from them. I was sloppy and unskilled, but persistent. As with any beginner, the last models were better than the early ones. My ship building evolved into a profitable hobby, and eventually into my vocation.
Myinitial interest had been in conventional sailing ships, but over time I became more interested in the smaller workboats of traditional fishermen. I learned I could build these boats in a larger scale while building them in the same way they were actually built, with all the traditional components a shipwright uses. I started with the workboats of the Chesapeake Bay that I saw all around me. Mostof the boats are under 40 feet, and using ¾ inch scale resulted in a model less than 30 inches long. Occasionally I’d use a smaller scale to keep the larger boats in the same approximate size range. In my models, one could see the actual structure of boat’s construction and the working gear detail. I also painted the boats to look as they actually looked in their environment: the paint was wornand chipped, rust stains ran down the sides, and nail sickness blushed below the paint. The decks were covered with debris and shells, and the iron work and dredges were worn and rusted.
There were few things I came to enjoy more than going down dirt roads and finding old wrecks and talking to the watermen who used them. I would photograph them, take measurements, and sketch them. I wouldtalk to crabbers and oystermen as I took pictures of their boats. Once they realized I wasn’t from the government, I was accepted. Once I explained what I was doing I was allowed free run of any boatyard.
I once took a market gunning rig to a show in Chincoteague. It had all the necessary gear, including a punt gun, paddles and mud pole. I’d based my model on a boat in Dr. Harry Walsh’s...
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