“The Ship Show”: A must-see exhibit at Astoria’s Royal Nebeker Art Gallery

Hank Pander’s watercolor of a ship next to an abandoned car speaks to our times, says Ship Show curator Ben Killen Rosenberg. “Here is the ship that is not in the water. Out of place,” he says. “And here’s this car that’s out of place and being used as a home. I like pieces where it is left up to the viewer to figure out what is going on.

If you’ve ever stood on the Columbia waterfront and watched the ships sail along the Astoria waterfront, you know that these vessels put on quite a show. Now the same can be said for the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery, where The ship show continues until January 26.

A boat show in Astoria might seem natural, but the idea wasn’t as obvious as you might think. Rather, it was born out of a bit of desperation, as the opening date for the 2022-23 exhibition season was approaching and gallery director Christine Schock still had no theme for the first show. (No, she wasn’t procrastinating, she’d just lost her mother.) So she reached out to curator Ben Killen Rosenberg, who recalled, “I was just thinking well, a theme for the show… Where are we? Boats, ocean. And then I thought of ships and I said, “The Ship Show.”

Rosenberg traces his fascination with ships to the US Bicentennial celebration, when he watched the 1776 tall ships sail into Boston Harbor. He recalls being captivated by their “sky-high masts” and “beautiful rigging.” At Astoria, he stopped to watch the ships carrying goods and passengers up the Columbia River. “Ships are mysterious and romantic,” he says in the show notes. “They’re talking about an earlier time and a slower pace of travel as they pass through huge bodies of water.”

Ship Sketch by Sally Cleveland (2021, oil on paper) is pocket size 5.5 by 3 inches.
Ship Sketch by Sally Cleveland (2021, oil on paper) is pocket size 5.5 by 3 inches. “I prefer subject matter that lacks obvious finesse or easy description,” she says of her work.

The ship show features 20 Oregon artists working in mediums including watercolor, sculpture, ceramics and printmaking. A free public reception with the artists will begin at 6:00 pm on Thursday, October 27, in the gallery on the Clatsop Community College campus.

“Group shows are always really fun,” Schock said. “I’m so excited. We’re lucky enough to have two huge Hank Pander watercolors, both painted on location — one in Homer (Alaska) and one in Astoria. Another thing I’m excited about is that there are a lot of local artists.”

One of those locals is Noel Thomas, “famous” for painting ships on location. “You can’t have a ship show without Noel,” Schock said.

In putting together the show, Rosenberg wanted to include artists he had not worked with before, ensure a balance between female and male artists, and only show one or two works per artist so that each could be “the star of the show”. That wasn’t always easy, certainly not when it came to Pander.

“To me, he’s one of the old guards of the classical way of painting,” Rosenberg said. “He makes these spectacular pieces and he sent me a whole bunch of work.”

So Rosenberg made a list of the works that appealed to him the most, initially placing one of the paintings at the bottom, then changing his mind.

The picture, he said, spoke of the times. “There is an abandoned car. You look at it and wonder, well, maybe someone is making a living from this. Then you see this ship kind of raised out of the water. The more I looked at it, I thought it was the ship that was not in the water. Out of place. And here’s this car that’s out of place and being used as a home. I like pieces where it is left up to the viewer to figure out what is going on. I had chosen another piece instead and then put it back. I’m glad I did.”

On his website, artist Marc Andres calls Astoria “a unique city of fragile beauty, working class, and cubism.  With its unusual topography and proximity to the water, views of Astoria are compressed, making spatial planes parallel to the observer... At night, the tankers seem to float like zeppelins over the city as if in a dream.  Astoria is like a huge still life created by a genius.
On his website, artist Marc Andres calls Astoria “a unique city of fragile beauty, working class, and cubism. With its unusual topography and proximity to the water, views of Astoria are compressed, making spatial planes parallel to the observer… At night, the tankers seem to float like zeppelins over the city as if in a dream. Astoria is like a huge still life created by a genius.

Schack and Rosenberg also have paintings in the show. Shauck’s, on the tall ship Lady Washington, is a departure from her usual figure theme.

Rosenberg painted a ship long kayaked in a coastal bay.

“I see these beautiful rust colors that happen over the years,” he said. “I keep telling myself fictional stories about it.” When he was painting the ship, he said, the owner’s son stopped, “and he started telling me that he worked with his father on the ship and they took it around the world. I love history and just hearing all these stories.”

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