by John Into Co-Chair The Arts at Navy Point
A man approached me, several years ago, and told me about his previous career. He had been a “design engineer” in the automobile industry. When the auto industry suffered serious losses in the 1970’s he was among hundreds of “Design Engineers” laid off, as he told me, because they were considered to be a luxury in tough times. Other types of engineers were appointed to do the jobs of design engineers, unfortunately with some boring results. He explained to me that the job of a design engineers required college level study of art, in addition to engineering, because their job was to create the styles of the future. His job was to design cars in ways that captured the attention of the buyer and in ways that retained features that let the buyer know what brand of car they were looking at, even without a name plate. Think of the the Mustang, the Corvette, the T-Bird… Design engineers also designed airplanes, appliances – and boats…
I was lucky to work with the late Robert Rioux, who had been the chief designer at Century Boats during the 60’s and 70’s, whose classic designs included the 1966/67 Arabian and the 1965 Coronado. We discussed design engineering and the art elements required to be at the forefront of design. Many people who knew of him weren’t aware that he was also an artist whose work was highly sought after. The lines drawings of Charles Jannace, whose designs have included Bertram, Black Fin and Hugh SaintYachts, done on vellum with a lead-holder, are among the most beautiful drawings I have ever seen. In addition to designing extremely seaworthy vessels, his stylish designs set industry standards.
Style is something inescapable when you look at many of the boats in our show. Those made by Chris~Craft, Century, Garwood, Lyman, Shepherd and other companies, because they were originally designed for the consumer market, were deliberately intended to be stylish. They were designed to catch the imagination of a potential buyer and not let it go.
Let me stress the point that the vast majority of our boats were drawn on paper by Naval Architects often with art training and a deliberate intent to be stylish. Of course, since they were designing functioning machines, these same engineers were also concerned with safety, reliability, and performance. Some of our boats, when thought of in the context of what boats are current now, may appear to be relics, but in the time of their release to the market, they were the “state-of-the-art”.
In addition to art as an important element of design, there were also elements of artisanry in the original construction of most of our boats. Although they were often made in factories, those factories and those that worked in them were doing something very different from what occurs in today’s highly automated and technologically dependent factories. Wooden boats were originally made by highly trained wood workers, who knew how to read wood grain; metal workers, who knew how to sand cast and how to bend metal crisply; pattern makers, electricians, upholsterers, etc. Our boats were hand made by people who spent their lives learning their skills and they took great pride in what they were creating. They fell into the time-honored category of “craftsmen”. Their artisanry was what brought boats from the drawing board to reality.
Now, lest you think that all of that artisanry is gone in the boat world, I can assure you that it’s just not true, however, the number of wooden boat builders operating these days is few. There are individuals and companies building new wooden boats. Some of them are newly built virtual copies using old tried and true designs. Some are venturing into their own new designs using old style materials and workmanship. Still others are making hybrids. That is they are trying to make new boats using classic styling and materials, but adding newer materials and techniques to create boats that age more slowly.
Unfortunately, boats are subject to aging, sometimes brutally. A wooden boat truly requires constant attention. The characteristics of wood change over time, with potential drying out, dry rot and other problems. Finishes must be reapplied. Boats stored indoors may remain beautiful for many years, but there can be problems, even when stored inside, unless they are in a humidity controlled space. There is real expertise needed to prevent a fine wooden boat from falling into disrepair.
The problems created by the aging of boats have led to Boat Restorers. As you peruse each seemingly new boat and see what makes it special insofar as what it might have meant to the boating world when it was released, or whether its an outboard or a cruiser, or how simple or ostentatious it might be, keep in the back of your mind the possibility that a given boat might have been very close to “the burn pile”. It’s through the dedication of individuals working on their own boats and people who make a living as boat restorers that our boats, many of which I personally believe are art pieces, come to be here for us to see and appreciate.
Please read me carefully on the following. Some of our boats were never in truly bad shape. Hence the judging category of “Best Preserved”. I am showing some examples of condition here with boats that are similar to each other, but are not the same boats and I cannot tell you what condition those I am showing started in. They might have been near new. However, some of our most beautiful boats started in conditions far worse than any of these and this is why I highlight the abilities of those who restore them.
|I don’t know the history of the boat on the left. It does have some similarity to the boat on the right and in many cases boats, such as the one on the left, were restored with conditions such as the seen on the right.|
|It is possible that this Lyman on the left…||…is what became this beautiful Lyman.|
Where this form of artisanry differs from boat building, is that a restorer’s job is to solve puzzles. The objective is to bring the boat to the condition it was in when it left the factory or boathouse. Note the distressed Lyman. While it is not exactly like the other, it is very similar, which is to say that many pieces are apparently missing. Perhaps they are not. The exact model year could change what features the same model came with. A lot of research is required to know the answers accurately. It might turn out that you can poke your finger through the side of the hull. This means replacing wood exactly as it was, including wood species, coloration and grain. Metal parts may be missing. They may have to be procured from an expert who sells parts from other similar boats. Those parts will probably have to be cleaned and re-chromed by a chrome plater. Upholstery is something else that has to be done. Engine rebuilding? Again, everything needs to be done with materials, finishes and other aspects, as closely to original as is possible. To me, this is another art form.
When you consider that the boats were designed by those trained in the arts to be deliberately stylish, when you consider that the builders of the boats were highly trained craftsmen, when you consider that many of these boats suffered the natural effects of aging and would not be here without the artistry of those who would and could return them to like new condition, I think it’s pretty clear that art is an important factor in the show’s existence.
I also believe that it is a reason why The Arts at Navy Point is such a strong and complimentary part of our show.
So, we have professional vendors and artists in The Arts at Navy Point. While it’s easy to walk into the show thinking you can immediately say one is a “vendor” and one is an “artist”, I will tell you that I find that the line is not so clear. I can tell you that every one is a professional and, like the boats, each should be given a bit of your time.
Can I convince you that a chrome plater is an artist? I’m not touching that one. See for yourself!
Ours is a juried show and we are currently in the vetting process for this year.
We will have the first 2017 Vendors and Artists list in May.
For a sense of who to expect, please see our list of Vendor and Artist for 2016 at
Many are returning in 2017 and we have received many new applicants. If you have specific questions about a particular vendor or are a vendor and think that you and our show would be a good match please contact John Into or Nancy Price at firstname.lastname@example.org