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Maritime Artist. John Noble's studio restored

Jan 1, 2003
From Ocean Navigator #122 May/June 2002

From Ocean Navigator #122 May/June 2002

He gathered the rails, the deck houses, wheels, winches, anchors, port lights and cleats from the rotting hulks, stripping them where they lay in the mud along the Kill Van Kull and the shores of the back door waterway west of Staten Island. It was the end of an era, the very last gasping days of sail, when grand vessels were still trimmed in carved, exotic wood. No longer viable for the commercial trade, they were driven ashore by their owners and forgotten, noticed only by a young man who was drawn to the random samples of extraordinary craftsmanship. Over time, they´jumble of salvaged debris was assembled atop a small wooden barge, and the collection began to take the shape of a yacht-like tugboat designed by Dr. Seuss, its Victorian decorations appearing at once ridiculous and beautiful. They were assembled by an artist — an artist with a sense of humor.

The 1977 stone lithograph above was titled Wreck, studio, artist and 2 barrels.
   Image Credit: John A. Nobel Maritime Collection

John Noble's quirky floating studio, on which he painted and crafted many of the 20th century's finest maritime artworks, is being restored for display by the organization that manages his work. The studio was started about 1939,eusing a teak saloon from an abandoned European yacht that was lying along the Kill. The John A. Noble Maritime Collection, based in Staten Island, is preserving the studio, the upper portion at least, and it will soon be on display along with much of his work. The studio's carved y´ousetop will be furnished in the way Noble himself had, using for reference many photographs taken by the author and by National Geographic photographers in the 1950s, a period when Noble was at his most prolific. The studio will remain inside the Noble Collection building in a room that will be made to feel like a pier. It will stand before windows that look out upon the Kill Van Kull, just as it did in Noble's life. Inside will be sketchbooks, paintbrushes, limestone, photographs and the same potbellied stove Noble used to heat the small space. The only items missing from the display are the barge, which rotted away toward the end of Noble's life, and the teak doors that were stripped by a looter in the early '80s.

Noble would venture from his studio in a rowing yawl loaded with sketchbooks and a camera, working all day collecting material that he would then transfer to Bavarian limestone back at the floating studio. (Noble favored working in his little studio, even if it involved hauling great quantities of limestone by train from Manhattan to the barge. Once complete, the stones would go back to Manhattan to George Miller's famous print studio.)

"The studio was a central part of my father's life and our lives," Allan A Noble, the artist's son said. "It was a place that he could go to get away from the hustle and bustle; it was small but functional." Allan Noble, who said he has fond memories of being in the studio, now owns and sails a Chesapeake log canoe that belonged to his father.

The John Noble Maritime Collection opens the studio for exhibition on April 27.

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