|Marine artist Hewitt Jackson, 1975,|
at Oregon Historical Society.
He did the drawing of the SANTIAGO
and other historic vessels in their collection.
Original photo from the S.P.H.S.©
H. W. McCurdy purchased one of his paintings of historic vessels, the BEAVER, from the 1963 "Changing Scene in Seattle" art show at the Museum of History and Industry and presented it to the Seattle Historical Society for the permanent collection. He commissioned another, the EXACT, also for the museum.
Earlier, Victor Denny, president of the society, purchased Jackson's picture of the United States sloop of war DECATUR from the 1961 show, for the collection, and an anonymous donor did the same with Jackson's 1962 entry, the DISCOVERY.
Thus the museum has been supplied with accurate views of four vessels that had important roles in Puget Sound history. The schooner EXACT brought the first American settlers to Alki Point, the DECATUR protected Seattle during the Indian War, the BEAVER carried supplies and furs to and from the Hudson's Bay Co Post at Fort Nisqually and the DISCOVERY was flagship on Capt. Vancouver's Voyage of Exploration. It anchored off Bainbridge Island for several days in 1792.
Jackson's nautical research for his pictures is almost equivalent to preparing a thesis. He has accumulated approximately 100 books on ship architecture, manuals of masting and the like.
Jackson lived in Kirkland and worked on a drafting table, surrounded by volumes, correspondence and coffee cups and subject to interruption by any of his six children or the dog. His tools are fine crayons, pen and ink and water colors.
"It's a compromise medium in order to permit a lot of detail that would be overpowering in oils," he explained.
Before Jackson ever touched pencil to paper, he consulted books and diagrams and written letter queries. He did not give credence to everything he read or was told about a vessel, nor did he trust the proportions and rigging in ship pictures allegedly made from memory. He wanted to know the vessel's use when first built and the depth at high tide of water on bars it passed over. He made a thorough inquiry into the gear and handling, reading logs of voyages whenever they are available.
When Hewitt had enough material assembled, he drew the idea sketches, showing the ship pointing into the wind, broadside or viewed from the stern. He may have made nine drawings before he is ready to start the final painting. He saved those, and as he accumulated more information, he made additions and changes to increase their accuracy.
He filled a commission for buyers in Oregon who desired Captain Gray's COLUMBIA, Vancouver's ender CHATHAM and Captain Baker's JENNY, all of which visited the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792.
In order to be certain of backgrounds as they were before modern changes, Jackson not only consulted profiles in the oldest Pacific Coast Pilot, but twice he sailed along the Washington shore, making photographs. He returned to the Lower Columbia in September to accompany John McClellan, Longview publisher and historian, on an expedition to trace by water, Lieut. William Broughton's small-small voyage from the Chatham's anchorage to the vicinity of Vancouver.
"I armed myself with old charts and used rocky outcrops and high places for bearings, as these will not be distorted," Jackson said. "The CHATHAM's compass was affected by iron deposits, the river course has changed greatly and the channel as shown in Vancouver's maps was full of errors. I had to plot anew where Broughton's ship lay."
On reading journals kept by officers of the CHATHAM, Jackson found they did not hold their ship in any high esteem. He was entertained by references to "our tub," the old pot" and less flattering descriptions.
Jackson's experience in professional cartography is of help in his artistic enterprise. He worked at mapping when in the Army and during the years he was employed at the U of WA in the department of oceanography. As a boy he had some experience on survey crews.
Jackson never studied drafting or art, though he has taught the former. He grew up on the east side of Lake Washington when Bellevue was the home of the last American whaling fleet. Going to sea in 1926, he turned naturally to making pictures of sailing craft.
He painted contemporary vessels in which he had shipped until about 1950, his attention was drawn to accounts of Vancouver's DISCOVERY and he wanted to do a likeness of her. Obtaining sufficient descriptive information was more difficult than he expected, but the experience taught him how to proceed on other unfamiliar vessels.
Jackson made about 20 paintings of the DISCOVERY and they are scattered over world. When he fills an order for one of them, he puts in from a week to a week and a half on the picture itself, using the fruits of his previous research.
For the EXACT, he studied old systems of measurements as applied to some 300 vessels, comparing them with the known dimensions of the EXACT until he arrived at the correct hull form of an East Coast schooner capable of crossing West Coast river bars.
He also profited from data gathered by several ship experts, fellow members of the P.S.M.H.S., and had the benefit of recollections of Captain Everett Coffin, a descendant of one of the owners.
Similar painstaking work went into Jackson's other historic pictures. He obtained plans of the CHATHAM from the British Admiralty. The JENNY had to be approached as hypothesis, based on the fact that she was fitted out originally for the slave trade. For the BEAVER, Jackson benefited from a set of prints resulting from a National Parks Service study.
Lately, a new use has developed for nautical research of this type. Museums are requesting models of historic vessels, so Jackson has prepared a series of plans of each ship he has done, arranged like a naval architect's presentation.
He has lately started to set down facts about the DAEDALUS, Vancouver's store ship, the best sailer of the three British vessels. As she was the initial ship to enter Grays Harbor, Jackson expects to get her on the drawing board soon. He is also putting out feelers for construction data on early Spanish craft that touched the Washington Coast. [as depicted in the above photo taken a few years later.]
There is no end to this sort of thing, once a person starts. Jackson has found, in the course of corresponding with museums and ship experts, that there is an upsurge of curiosity about old ships and a great number of persons are trying to find accurate information about them.
Above text by the late, great author/historian Lucile McDonald, published by The Seattle Times, 1963.