I frequently get asked the question ... "Would you do a commission?" And almost as frequently I politely respond "No, thank you." From experience I know that commissions take much longer, and often require research, travel, and a lot of communication with the customer. I typically get part way through the painting and tighten up because I want to give the customer exactly what he is paying for. And that is a good representation of his boat, or his beach house, etc. Something that he can proudly say "That's mine!" But as an artist, I prefer to use objects as parts of an overall composition that has visual impact but is not necessarily accurate in representation. I want to paint with complete freedom and take the chance that some customer will want it, rather than paint what a specific customer wants and hope that upon completion they feel it was a good investment.
BUT, two years ago a man approached me during the Beverly Hills Art Show and asked if I would do a painting of his boat "Ace." Ace was then in dry dock at a Long Beach shipyard being completely overhauled. Unlike other boats, Ace has historic significance which attracted me. Ace was originally a double-decked ferry boat that daily took cannery workers back and forth to Terminal Island from San Pedro. This was long before construction of the Vincent Thomas Bridge in 1963. The "Islander" was another ferry that, like Ace, left San Pedro from the Municipal Ferry Terminal (now the Los Angeles Maritime Museum) to cross the Main Channel of Los Angeles Harbor. Islander could carry automobiles while Ace and a similar ferry named Matt Walsh carried mostly cannery and shipyard employees.
There were as many as 40 canneries in LA Harbor by 1917. Many of those later consolidated. In 1939 the canneries and fishing fleet at LA Harbor employed more than 6,000 workers. In 1946 tuna canning in LA Harbor became the largest in the world. In the 1950's LA Harbor accounted for 80% of the 12 million cases of tuna produced in the U.S. alone. Canneries included: California Fish Company, California Tuna Canning Company, Van Camp Sea Food Company (best known for its Chicken of the Sea product line), French Sardine Company later known as Star-Kist, Pan Pacific Sea Food, South Coast Fisheries Company, Municipal Wholesale Fish Market, Terminal Island Sea Foods, California Marine Curing & Packing, Star-Kist, and C.H.B. Seafoods (formerly Pan Pacific).
Fish canning evolved from sardines only in 1893, to albacore in 1905 due to the depletion of sardines, to other types of tuna in 1917, and to mackerel in 1928.
1963 marked the end of an era. The opening of the Vincent Thomas Bridge negated the need for ferry service and ended the need for Ace. And large, international, food-processing conglomerates, such as Heinz and Ralston Purina, purchased the local tuna canning operations. In 1984 Star-Kist shut down. In 2001 the Chicken of the Sea tuna canning plant in LA Harbor closed down. It was the last tuna fish canning operation in the continental U.S.
The de-commissioned Ace had been purchased and re-configured for private use. The lower deck had been completely enclosed. After 30+ years, Ace was purchased by my customer, Mr. Brian Wald. And Mr. Wald was proudly in the middle of a complete refurbish of Ace. As Brian and I talked about composition, I realized this was more than a commission for a painting of his boat. Brian wanted a historical story. He wanted the current configuration of Ace in the foreground. But he also wanted Ace as a Terminal Island ferry in the background along with the Islander. To add more historic value he wanted some representation of original sardine and tuna canneries. We both thought the story would be complete with the inclusion of the Vincent Thomas Bridge spanning the harbor at a height of 185 feet. It is the only suspension bridge in the world supported entirely on piles.
After meeting with Mr. Wald, discussing his requirements, and visiting Ace at the shipyard, we agreed to do the commission. And it has been without regret. The complete refurbish of Ace took more than a year. But during that time I took many photographs of her progress and many photos of LA Harbor. My real enjoyment, however, came from several visits to the San Pedro Historical Society. I went through hundreds of old black and white photographs which gave me a new appreciation of our maritime heritage. Upon completing the painting I realized the value of Brian's vision. This was more than any photograph could capture.