Off The Palette With Don Stoltenberg

“Art is a corner of nature as seen through a temperment.” Oscar Wilde

AUREOL in the Bay Of Biscay. Photo © Peter Knego 2009.

AUREOL in the Bay Of Biscay. Photo © Peter Knego 2009.

When I am at home, I take a moment out of each day to stop and gaze upon one of my favorite, most cherished oil paintings. The depiction of Elder Dempster Line’s majestic little 1951-built AUREOL is magnificent for what it is as much as for what it is not. Instead of a fussily-rendered photographic study with every porthole and guy wire “just so” and each hull plate and rivet slavishly recreated in a painter’s medium, it evocatively captures the essence and spirit of a hard-working colonial liner in her oceanic element. Of course, all of the underrated AUREOL’s balanced proportions and curvaceous features are true to form but a fine, salty mist diffused in prisms of light stings the eyes; faint whiffs of diesel hover over her stout, buff funnel and a stylized sea threatens to swallow the observer into a thickly-textured turquoise trough off the ship’s starboard bow.

Don Stoltenberg in his Brewster, MA studio, December 2007. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Don Stoltenberg in his Brewster, MA studio, December 2007. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The gifted mind and skilled hands behind this and countless other maritime masterpieces belong to Don Stoltenberg, a man who has dedicated his life to capturing the often unsung art and beauty of ships and other man-made structures.

QUEEN ELIZABETH (for cover of “RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH: The Ultimate Ship” by Clive Harvey).

QUEEN ELIZABETH (for cover of “RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH: The Ultimate Ship” by Clive Harvey).

His works grace the permanent collections of museums and galleries as well as the covers of many books, including the recently released tome by Clive Harvey, “RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH: The Ultimate Ship”.

Winter haven at Brewster. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Winter haven at Brewster. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The sleepy Cape Cod community of Brewster, Massachusetts has been home to Stoltenberg and his partner, Ken Swallow, for nearly 42 years. They bought their 1860 Greek Revival style house, which sports a loft and a studio, initially as a summer and weekend getaway in 1959.

Petaled prism by Ken Swallow. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Petaled prism by Ken Swallow. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

No stranger to the creative process, Ken fashions exquisite lead and stained glass medallions, many of which dangle in front of the home’s myriad of windows.

Don was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 16, 1927. His mother died in childbirth and his father, a CPA, remarried when Don was three years old. In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, the family lost their home and moved to Chicago to be closer to Don’s maternal grandmother.

Don recently reflected that the family’s residence, a stylish Arts and Crafts villa, was among the finest in their Northwest Chicago neighborhood. It was around this time that he first became interested in clipper ships, having read about them in grade school. He had also grown fond of building ship models. Favorite books that piqued his curiosity further were Henry B. Culver’s ”Forty Famous Ships” and “Book Of Old Ships”, both illustrated by Gordon Grant, whose drawings of MAURETANIA (i) and the brand new QUEEN MARY, had a big effect on him.

In the 5th or 6th grade, he took to drawing subjects of interest, such as ships and architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright was an early favorite). His kindly Uncle Herman, who happened to be an established Chicago art director, bought the young prodigy a set of watercolors and showed him still life painting techniques. From this point onward, the pursuit of art would be Don’s calling.

A fond grade school pastime was to take the excursion steamer THEODORE ROOSEVELT from Chicago to the Michigan ports of Benton Harbor and South Haven and every summer, Don would head to a farm near Manitowoc, Wisconsin to spend a couple months with his maternal grandparents.

The SS CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS. Peter Knego collection.

The SS CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS. Peter Knego collection.

The nearby Manitowoc shipyards had formed a lasting impression, although he admits being somewhat frustrated about having missed the demolition of the unique 1893-built whaleback steamer CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS there.



”What do you think of this boat?”

NORMANDIE stern view at night.

NORMANDIE stern view at night.

Ultimately one of Don’s most passionate and oft-painted subjects, French Line’s NORMANDIE, was far less renowned to him at this developmental time than the QUEEN MARY, although a prescient uncle had sent him and his cousins a French Line brochure with “What do you boys think of this boat?” handwritten across the cover.

NORMANDIE elevated bow view.

NORMANDIE elevated bow view.

Don recalled finding the NORMANDIE a bit too severe in all the black and white images he had initially seen and that she looked so much richer in color.

NORMANDIE aerial view.

NORMANDIE aerial view.

It was not until the ship caught fire and capsized in 1942 that he really began to understand and appreciate all that was the NORMANDIE.

NORMANDIE bow view.

NORMANDIE bow view.

A radio broadcast by Gabriel Heater gave the ship’s destruction (one year after the fall of France, itself) particular gravitas.

NORMANDIE at LeHavre.

NORMANDIE at LeHavre.

And the series of images in Coronet Magazine showing the before and after fire images of various public spaces drove it home for the budding artist.



Grand, Rapid Growth

Of the many Great Lakes ships Don regularly saw on trips to Detroit, the CITY OF DETROIT and her sisters were “so powerful looking with their towering hulls and the way those three funnels were grouped together.”

Of the many Great Lakes ships Don regularly saw on trips to Detroit, the CITY OF DETROIT and her sisters were “so powerful looking with their towering hulls and the way those three funnels were grouped together.”

In 1941, Don’s father was transfered to Grand Rapids, Michigan. He recalls his high school art class: “It was terrible. All we did was draw posters for basketball and football, so I switched to a typing class, which was far more useful.”

SS MILWAUKEE CLIPPER. Peter Knego collection.

SS MILWAUKEE CLIPPER. Peter Knego collection.

At the time, George Sharp’s ultra streamlined MILWAUKEE CLIPPER had debuted in cross lake service from Muskegon, Michigan to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Stoltenberg was stricken by her streamlined profile, which was billed as “Moderne” or “Modernistic” in the years before the term “Art Deco” was born.

CITY OF MIDLAND 41. Peter Knego collection.

CITY OF MIDLAND 41. Peter Knego collection.

Don also recalled crossing from Luddington, Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin several times on the rakish, coal-fired CITY OF MIDLAND 41, which was the world’s largest train ferry when built in 1941.

In junior college, Don’s art teacher, Freida Wordelman, introduced him to the works of Cezanne. There was no turning back.

Art School

Industrial Still Life. 1950. Oil on wood plank.

Industrial Still Life. 1950. Oil on wood plank.

“Art was not a job but a way of life. I learned to see things for their form, to analyze their shape, volume and structure and get away from their function — familiarity makes you half blind.”

At the urging of an aunt, Don headed to the Ray-Vogue School in Chicago and studied fashion and advertising art. One professor provided a useful tip in encouraging Don to look to the masters for inspiration in lieu of following the current illustration trends. He attended classes at the Institute of Design, where a New Bauhaus movement was led by teachers who had fled Hitler’s Germany. He ultimately obtained his bachelor’s degree in visual design from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

While studying, Don was able to support himself with scholarships and part time graphic and illustration work for Marshall Field, the Ditto Corporation (where he learned gelatin print skills) and Raymond Loewy (where he was involved in catalogue design).

LIBERTE.

LIBERTE.

In 1953, Don’s grandfather died, leaving him a small inheritance that helped fund a trip to Europe on the LIBERTE. “Everyone who was interested in art had to go to Europe. I spent four months there sketching and taking photos.” He recalls his first transatlantic voyage: “It wasn’t the happiest cr
ossing. It was the end of March, a real tourist class adventure. I was in a very spartan cabin with four bunks and a wash basin, very communal. I remember the exposed pipes and wires coated in cream colored paint on the ceiling.”

When he returned to the states, Don took up residence in the Wharf along the Boston waterfront. It was at this time that he met Ken, who was in bank management. While pursuing his freelance art, Don was employed three to four days a week at the Container Corporation, designing cartons and packages. For many years, he taught oil painting, watercolor and printmaking a day or two per week at the DeCordova Museum School in nearby Lincoln, Massachusetts. More teaching gigs, gallery and museum exhibitions followed, leading to numerous awards (click here for a comprehensive list of credits as well as Don’s contact information).

NOBSKA in drydock.

NOBSKA in drydock.

In 1959, they bought their Brewster house, first as a weekend and summer getaway. Don recalled crossing frequently on the steamer NOBSKA, “a wonderful, classic steamer and a real work horse. She sailed year-round between Cape Cod and Nantucket except on the rare occasions when the harbor froze over. Years later, when she was in drydock awaiting restoration, I sketched her.” {Sadly, the funding never came through and NOBSKA was demolished on the spot.}

In the mid-1960s, on a return trip from Europe with Don, Ken decided to give up banking and pursue his interest in glass-making. Largely inspired by the Victoria and Albert glass collection, the self-taught Ken began making colorful glass medallions that often incorporated patterns Don designed. In return, Ken helped Don with the arduous task of producing thousands of maritime prints. Don recalled, “It was very labor intensive. The ink had to be repeatedly applied and wiped in a certain way.”

The 1970s were particularly busy and successful for both artists, whose works were represented by agents and sold throughout New England at the time.

Stoltenberg in his studio, circa 1975.

Stoltenberg in his studio, circa 1975.

Although his art has been featured in many volumes, Don penned two of his own instructional books during this prolific time. The first, “Collagraph Print Making”, a skill he taught at DeCordova, involved a then experimental technique of applying layers to a printing plate in lieu of the more traditional etching. “We sort of invented it as we went along.”

The second was “The Artist and the Built Environment”.



The Artist And The Built Environment

”The Artist and the Built Environment” by Don Stoltenberg.

”The Artist and the Built Environment” by Don Stoltenberg.

In 1980, Davis Publications of Worcester, MA published “The Artist and the Built Environment”. It utilizes a number of works from VanGogh, Canaletto and Mondrian to Stoltenberg and his peers, to illustrate different painting techniques and architecture.

Demonstration from "Artist and The Built Environment."

Demonstration from “Artist and The Built Environment.”

Particularly nice are the pages demonstrating how some of the works were rendered. Here, Don begins with an application of acrylic gesso to a blank 36 by 48 inch canvas.

Demo from "Artist And The Built Environment", ctd.

Demo from “Artist And The Built Environment”, ctd.

The acrylic “under painting” is completed before switching to an oil medium. The use of stencils and other tools to achieve various shapes and effects is also detailed.

The Railway Station. 1978. Acrylic and oil.

The Railway Station. 1978. Acrylic and oil.

The end result is breathtaking. This is but one of many works whose secrets unfold in “The Artist and the Built Environment”.

Airliner. Watercolor on canvas 1978.

Airliner. Watercolor on canvas 1978.

“It is the artist’s function to examine, digest and interpret our surroundings, to give us ways in which to react to them, evaluate them and, in various ways, to come to terms with them.”



In their free time, Don and Ken enjoy traveling and have taken numerous cruises on a roster of ships from P&O;’s SS CANBERRA, Chandris’ SS BRITANIS, NCL’s SS NORWAY, Orient Lines’ MV MARCO POLO and Holland America’s SS ROTTERDAM to Royal Caribbean’s MV SPLENDOR OF THE SEAS and Cunard’s MV QUEEN MARY 2. Don always brings his sketchbook along, often resulting in a pastel and charcoal-fueled documenting frenzy.



Snippets From The Stoltenberg Sketchbook:
SS LEONARDO DA VINCI — May 12 through 15, 1998

LEONARDO DA VINCI bow view at Port Everglades, May 12, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI bow view at Port Everglades, May 12, 1978.

“I got so carried away with drawing the LEONARDO DA VINCI upon our arrival at Port Everglades, that we were too late to secure good dining arrangements. Ken was not happy about that….”

LEONARDO DA VINCI Boat Deck, May 13, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI Boat Deck, May 13, 1978.

“It was a very short cruise. I remember we had a very nice Boat Deck cabin with a tiled bathroom.”

LEONARDO DA VINCI stern view at Nassau. May 13, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI stern view at Nassau. May 13, 1978.

“Well, I have to admit that I liked the (LEONARDO’s predecessors) ANDREA DORIA and CRISTOFORO COLUMBO’s exteriors a bit better — they were so well balanced — but I’m so happy we got to experience the LEONARDO DA VINCI.”

LEONARDO DA VINCI starboard mast and foredeck. May 13, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI starboard mast and foredeck. May 13, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI funnel from top of house. May 13, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI funnel from top of house. May 13, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI forward Lido Deck. May 15, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI forward Lido Deck. May 15, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI aft Lido Deck. May 14, 1978.

LEONARDO DA VINCI aft Lido Deck. May 14, 1978.

“Even though it was really at the end of the ship’s career, the food and service were quite good although the crowd wasn’t so great. It was really our last chance to sail in a ship built for Italian Line, a fantasy I had held since looking at the glamorous ads depicting the REX’s Lido Deck in “Fortune” magazine as a child. When I was sun tanning in Grand Rapids, that is where I imagined myself.”



“Maybe because I am still emotionally attached to them, I find that my most recent paintings are my favorites. In retrospect, I think the QUEEN ELIZABETH I did for Clive’s book works well. As time passes, I can look back and re evaluate my work with a more critical eye.”

Boat and davit.

Boat and davit.

“Right now, I’m particularly interested in details. On ships like MONARCH OF THE SEAS, the detailing is especially good. Functioning things like davits, life boats and pulleys have been recent subjects. Mechanical things, machinery.”



Gallery of Grandeur:
A Selection Of Paintings
With Musings
By Don Stoltenberg

AMERICA

AMERICA.

AMERICA.

“If any ship should have been saved, it is the AMERICA. From Eleanor Roosevelt’s christening (which was sadly overshadowed by the start of World War Two the following day), her war service and wonderful careers. She was so warm and beautiful, both inside and out. It is so sad about her fate, first losing the forward funnel, then what followed…”


COSTA RIVIERA

COSTA RIVIERA starboard sun deck.

COSTA RIVIERA starboard sun deck.

“We enjoyed a nice cruise in COSTA RIVIERA from Savona to Egypt and Israel. Of course, she looked better as GUGLIEMO MARCONI but she definitely held her own against the other Italian ships at that time (2002).”


EMPRESS OF BRITAIN

Southampton docks in the 1930s: EMPRESS OF BRITAIN (right), EUROPA (center) and COLUMBUS (left).

Southampton docks in the 1930s: EMPRESS OF BRITAIN (right), EUROPA (center) and COLUMBUS (left).

“I’m a big fan of the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN (1931). You know, when people ask what my ultimate fantasy cruise would be, I tell them it’s simple: the 1933 world cruise on the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN.”


FRANCE

FRANCE.

FRANCE.

“One of the most beautiful ships ever constructed. Even better than the NORMANDIE. Perfection. Every line matched and every feature went together.”

Various studies of FRANCE and as NORWAY.

Various studies of FRANCE and as NORWAY.

“When she came to New York on her maiden voyage, I was so impressed with her exteriors. Less so with the interiors, which were a bit too angular and, I thought, at the time, anyway, lacking grace.”


ILE DE FRANCE

ILE DE FRANCE

ILE DE FRANCE.

“Admittedly, I thought she looked her best with two funnels but the (three funneled) ILE is what I believe inspired LeCorbusier to comment just how splendid a steamship’s architecture can be. She had wonderful detailing, although I never liked the big box aft of her funnels.”


INDEPENDENCE.

INDEPENDENCE.

“The Quincy, MA-built INDEPENDENCE and CONSTITUTION were so beautiful in their original form. I loved their counter sterns but must admit their interiors were not my favorite. Not at that time, anyway.”


LEVIATHAN

LEVIATHAN stern view.

LEVIATHAN stern view.

“Of the three Ballin-designed ships, I most prefer the IMPERATOR/BERENGARIA because she had a much nicer bridge. The VATERLAND/LEVIATHAN and BISMARCK/MAJESTIC were a bit too blank in front, so I tend to paint them in stern views. I remember when Frank Braynard began his series of books on LEVIATHAN (Don was one of the many sponsors who helped get it published). I don’t think a more detailed account of any ship’s career has ever been written.”


Modern Cruise Ships

COSTA ATLANTICA class ship, Celebrity MILLENNIUM class ship and an RCCL ship at Barcelona.

COSTA ATLANTICA class ship, Celebrity MILLENNIUM class ship and an RCCL ship at Barcelona.

“With modern ships, it’s often the details I enjoy so much more than the overall shape but if the lighting and setting are right, I find them beautiful, too.”

Carnival FANTASY class ship with tug.

Carnival FANTASY class ship with tug.

“The lighting and tug were wonderful. Certain parts of the ship have an appeal and the funnels are distinctive.”


NAUSHON

NAUSHON deck view.

NAUSHON deck view.

“The NAUSHON (originally NANTUCKET) replaced the NOBSKA as the major ferry running between Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket year around. She was a lovely vessel, a sort of miniature liner and in steam. She was replaced by the current diesel boats some years ago. And she had such a nicely sculpted funnel — it was definitely not an afterthought.”


PRINCIPE PERFEITO

PRINCIPE PERFEITO aerial view. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2009.

PRINCIPE PERFEITO aerial view. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2009.

“I like these somewhat smaller, lesser known ships. Their features weren’t lost or diluted by great dimensions.”


QE2

QE2 collage.

QE2 collage.

“I’ve had a long relationship with the QE2, from first gazing at various renderings of the ‘QUEENs’ (MARY and ELIZABETH) replacement’ in the Illustrated London News to seeing her on the stocks from a passing train in Scotland. I followed her progress through engine troubles and various breakdowns, then crossed on her in September of 1969 when she still had all of her original features intact, including that wonderful forward lounge. It was such a thrill to experience her at that time — she was truly cutting edge. Her various superstructure additions just
ified the larger, thicker funnel. I missed the notorious Magrodome phase but did experience most of her changes and took her last crossing. It is wonderful that she did so well over so many years after such a troubled start.”


SAVARONA

SAVARONA at Vittorioso, Malta. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2009.

SAVARONA at Vittorioso, Malta. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2009.

SAVARONA at Vittorioso, Malta detail. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2009.

SAVARONA at Vittorioso, Malta detail. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2009.

“She is very graceful and somewhat unusual for her yacht-like lines. I loved seeing her in the backdrop of Malta underneath that great arch.”


UNITED STATES

UNITED STATES at speed.

UNITED STATES at speed.

“So sleek! I spent a few hours on the UNITED STATES on one of her rare calls at Boston toward the end of her career. It seemed as though they were desperate for passengers and the crew members were urging people to support the ship in what must have been a trying time. She was particularly beautiful from the outside.”


VISTAFJORD

VISTAFJORD in Cunard livery.

VISTAFJORD in Cunard livery.

“Those two NAL ships, the VISTAFJORD and SAGAFJORD, were such classics, although they were unfortunately altered over the years. The extra deck installed above SAGAFJORD’s wheelhouse bothered me, although VISTAFJORD’s bridge was already a deck higher than her sister’s. Externally, I also liked the row of dining room windows underneath VISTAFJORD’s promenade deck. We sailed on VISTAFJORD in her Cunard era and she was still in very good form.”

CARONIA (iii).

CARONIA (iii).

“I later saw VISTAFJORD as CARONIA and might have even preferred her in the black hull. I was sorry to see her afterdecks expanded (when she became SAGA RUBY) but at least they kept the curve.”



“It is my hope that one day more people will appreciate marine art from a wide variety of approaches beyond just the illustrational. I am always concerned with light, structure, abstract qualities — those are what I hope to describe with my art.”

Don Stoltenberg, Brewster, MA, May 30, 2009.

Don Stoltenberg Ocean Liner Paintings at Simplon Postcards

Donald Stoltenberg Wikipedia Biography

Special thanks: Martin Cox, Ken Swallow

March 26, 2016 UPDATE:  We received the sad news today that Don Stoltenberg passed away.

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego
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