“Looking through whaling logbooks at the Providence library, my fingers went black from turning the pages. It was as though some small part of whaling had rubbed off on me, the soot from the try pots, fires that burned night and day. Melville called it “the left wing of the day of judgement”. The true history of American whaling is in those logbooks, and hundreds like them, written by the men who went to sea. Those pages hold the excitement of the hunt, the chase, the danger, as well as the boredom and near-constant longing for home, all of it the sum parts of whaling.
They put to sea, and hoped.”
I could never have been a whaler, but would love to have been aboard a whaleship in 1856, to see how it was done, meet those men, hear their stories, somehow get it all down in my own sketchbooks and journals, my fingers black from soot, as well as ink.
To have put to sea, and hoped.
Peaks Island, MaineScott Kelley’s exquisite watercolors, the result of extensive research and extraordinary skill are evidence enough of a well-spent artist’s residency, albeit imaginary, aboard one of those 19th century whalers.
The paintings, which are mostly “excerpts” from said residency’s many "sketch-logbooks" are on view now at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland, Maine.
Meticulous portraits of whales, delicate renderings of their dramatic spouts, and identification charts of their fins and tails grace soot-smudged and, in cases, severely foxed “pages.” There’s an entire “logbook” of gridded pages--color charts of the North Atlantic under various conditions.
And because Kelley is the quintessential whaler-artist, there is scrimshaw, too.
I'll be checking out his show opening next week in NYC at W. M. Brady, 22 E. 80th St.