After several years of painting
Maine lobster boats, I realized that it would be very helpful
to work from a scale model of these boats... particularly for
the rough water scenes. I try to get to Maine as often as possible,
but all my actual painting is done in North Carolina, and there
are times I need to change the attitude of the boats for my paintings.
I began to inquire about plans of these boats, and wrote every
nautical museum in New England to see if they would sell plans
of the Jonesport-Beals Island type lobster boats. I quickly learned
that no plans were available. Many of the older boats were not
built from plans. You will find this true of working boats on
the Chesapeake or Harker's Island, North Carolina. Oddly enough,
these people had the skill to make these boats without plans.
At one time, nautical historians such as Howard Chapelle recorded
the plans of American working boats in books such a his classic,
American Small Sailing Craft, but, with few exceptions, there
does not seem to be a historian taking the lines of these boats
today . As a result, some of our classic boats are lost to historical
Not having a plan available with
which to construct a scale model, I realized I would have to draw
my own plans as near to scale as an artist's eye would allow.
On my last trip to Maine, I found one of my favorite lobster boats
hauled out, and for sale at Great Wass Island. The old boat was
in terrible condition. I had first seen the Maria Elena in the
late1970s on my first trip to Maine. At that time, it was still
a beautiful boat, and I related to it because one of my favorite
songs during World War II was a song titled, Maria Elena. Now,
the boat sat on dry land and seemed to sag in it's cradle...weary
from years of hard use. Knowing this was my opportunity to record
a classic boat, I made 35mm photographs of the boat from every
angle....Straight on, from both the transom and bow, direct side
views from port and starboard, and detail shots of everything
required to make a believable scale model.
I must add here that I have been building models
since I was ten years old. However, all of these models were airplanes.
Some, were gliders. rubberband powered, control line speed models
in World War II (powered by the beautiful Bantam engine), powered
free flight models which would often disappear directly overhead
in a clear blue sky, and six foot wingspread gliders which would
often thump into people when I flew them in a nearby park. Eventually,
I progressed into radio control models, and won the North Carolina
scale championship with a British SE5-A which I had rigged to
drop a bomb. In the 1960s I built a scale P-51 Mustang that had
every feature of the real aircraft including retracting landing
gear. I felt sure I could build a scale lobster boat.
From the photos, I came up with a passable
set of plans. The Maine lobster boat has a round bottom much like
a canoe, and this is the most difficult area to deal with on a
boat. Each section ( or former) of the boat has to be designed
so that the planking fairs smoothly onto the next section in the
manner of the actual boat.....in doing this by eye, you can appreciate
the problem and challenge of building a full size boat. Eventually,
I had the sections faired so that the 3/16" planking covered the
hull in the manner of the actual boat. Most of the items used
for the boat had to be hand-built, including the steering wheel
which was tubular brass bent on a form, soldered and had the proper
number of spokes soldered into it's center pivot tube.
Each Photo Above To Read Descriptions By Robert Dance On Building
The Scale Model Of the Maria Elena
scale lobster traps were built, and two scale barrels were constructed
from slats over a form.....just like a real barrel ( I had seen
barrels built in my father's tobacco warehouse as a teenager).
As a lark, I equipped the model with an electric motor and built
a prop from sheet brass. I also included working running lights,
spotlight and interior lights for a total of six working lights.
Once painted, every item on the boat was antiqued as on an actual
boat with rust stains and rub marks. The boat is not perfect,
but it is as close to scale as any model lobster boat I have seen
, and I have used it in a number of my paintings. So....the Maria
Elena lives on....like the song.
Maria Elena Working Off The Rocks
A small alkyd painting for which I posed
my scale model of the Maria Elena. My son Mark posed for the figure
of the lobsterman. A model is of great assisitance in these paintings,
as I often cannot go up to Maine from my home in North Carolina.
The painting is a composite involving the model, some rocks that
were similar to rocks near Lubec, Maine and islands that are typical
of those seen along the Maine Coast.