By my seafaring, whale-loving, cartoonist buddy Randy Enos!
My relationship with Mystic Seaport in Connecticut goes back quite a few years. I started visiting there because in 1941, the last wooden whaleship in the United States went to live there because the millionaire, Colonel Green, who had it in his possession didn’t leave enough money when he died to take care of it. A group of artists got together to save the ship and eventually convinced Mystic to take it just before war broke out with Japan when they bombed Pearl Harbor. It is named the Charles W. Morgan and it was born a hundred years before me in my hometown. My interest in studying whaling history took me to Mystic very frequently to walk the decks of the Morgan. In its 80 years on the sea, there are three men named Enos on the crew lists.
On the Mystic Seaport wharf there is a blacksmith’s shop. That shop was brought there from New Bedford, my home town and was the shop of John D. Driggs. I own two harpoons that he made and I have taken them to Mystic to show the blacksmiths that work there at the shop because they have never seen actual Driggs harpoons. In the whaling days, the blacksmiths signed the harpoon heads along with markings which show the boat the harpoon was assigned to and the ship it was on.
As time went on I ended up doing some posters for events there at the seaport and they also carried giclées of a few of my whaling pictures. Six necktie designs were made from the elements of a border on one of my pictures and they continue to be sold at their shop. One day while I was there they had a new exhibit opening in their nice little art gallery. It was all the same old stuff, sailboats in watercolor, sailboats in oil, sailboats, sailboats and sailboats. I said to the director of the seaport, who I had gotten to know pretty well, “Y’know, I know a bunch of famous illustrators and cartoonists that I bet could make pictures of the sea that would be much more interesting than this stuff!” Then he asked me if I would curate a show of these illustrators and cartoonists for the gallery. I had never done anything like that before. I started to regret I had said anything but he persisted so I said that I’d try to see what kind of response I’d get from my artist friends. So, I started e-mailing everybody I could think of, concentrating on the most famous guys in the business. It pays to have been in the work as long as I had because I knew all the famous guys and they liked me. I got a very enthusiastic response. I asked if they would put as many pictures as they’d like in my show. The only requirement would be that the pictures would be about the sea in some form or other. Mystic paid for shipping and framing. Everything would be for sale and Mystic would take a modest percentage from the sales.
And so, “Illustrating The Sea” was born. Mystic lined up some TV and radio interviews with me to promote the show and they also featured some pictures from the exhibit at their annual booth at the Javit’s Center where I was there to answer questions and plug the event.
The hump I had to get over was that almost all of these artists would be unknown to the average person and the prices on the art would be a little more than they were used to. I had to inform the potential buyers of the reputations and the place each of the artists held as actual historic entities in the world of American illustration and cartooning.
Peter deSeve, a renowned New Yorker artist and children’s book illustrator and character designer for numerous famous animated films and a former student of mine (he must have been impressed by me in art school because he went out and married a woman named Randall!), went on NBC’s Today Show with me to plug the exhibit.
I had work from 42 artists in the show. Here are just a few of the names you might know… Bernie Fuchs, Gary Baseman, R. O. Blechman, Lou Brooks, Seymour Chwast, Guy Billout, Jack Davis, Brad Holland, Gary Kelley, Jack Unruh, and Bonnie Timmons. An unlikely group to be illustrating the sea, eh? Well, they did it. Many of them gave me 2, 3 or 4 pictures or more. It was the most unusual show that the Mystic Seaport gallery EVER had!
At the opening, Jack Davis’ pirate (which he had done for me just for the show) sold for $5,000 right away. I cinched the sale by telling the buyer what an icon Davis was and his historic association with Mad Magazine and how he had influenced a whole generation of artists stylistically. A little later the same buyer bought Wendell Minor’s book cover “Revenge of the Whale” for another $5,000. Another $5,000 went for my friend Gene Hoffman’s sculpture “Killer Whale”. I was afraid the high prices that some of the artists put on their work would scare off buyers but then Kinuko Craft’s book jacket painting of “Jane and the Prisoner of Woolhouse” sold for $20,000. I sold two or three pictures and so did many of the other artists so it was a pretty successful show.
The artists that lived in the region came and many stayed over in Mystic courtesy of the Seaport. The next morning, I took everybody on a tour of the Morgan and explained how all the equipment on board functioned and I told of how the whale was processed on the ship in order to extract the valuable whale oil. I was told later by the head of the Seaport that one of their regular ship guides had been standing off to the side listening to me and said, “Who is this guy and how does he know so much about whaling?”
We had a lovely little catalog printed for the show and here is the last paragraph of my introduction on the first page:
“The men and women represented here do more than just replicate the obvious surface vision of the sea, they plumb its depths to reveal the energy and expression, meaning and story that only an illustrator can.”
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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories: