Just Yesterday: Boats Illustrated

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A big flybridge motoryacht barrels through the chop in this 1959 magazine cover by Lester Fagans. Little known today, Fagans was a top commercial illustrator and painter through three decades, honored by the American Merchant Marine Institute as “one of the country’s leading contemporary marine artists.”

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Fagans was known early on for his detailed boat portraits. A 1939 work, Breezy Day, shows Henry Gibson’s powerboat Vesta, built by Hubert Johnson’s yard in Bay Head, New Jersey.

After serving in the South Pacific during World War II, Fagans began a career in commercial art, working for a variety of companies. He did road maps for Esso (Standard Oil); illustrated articles for Popular Science (one on “How to Drive” required Fagans to do extensive study of accident photographs); and a series of cutaway drawings of a centrifuge (for an article on supersonic aviation). His finely done posters for the shipping companies Moore-McCormack, Grace Lines and American Export Lines helped publicize their new fleets of ocean liners.

But he’s perhaps best known for his work in the recreational boating field. The boating business was booming in the 1950s and ’60s, with new boats, new designs and new technology to excite the buying public. Fagans helped show it all off through his magazine article illustrations and covers. He also did drawings for the so-called “Bible of Boating,” Chapman Piloting: Seamanship and Small Boat Handing.

Self-effacing, Fagans worked with what he called “quick sketches” and “no ideas.” He described himself as a guy who has to work “pretty hard” and “once in a while receives a check.”

He was active as an artist in the Chatham, Massachusetts, community that was his home. Countless entries in the Chatham Press announced lessons and demonstrations for civic groups and schoolchildren.

Fagans died in 1964. To those with whom he worked, he was known for his draftsmanship and attention to detail. As an illustrator, one publication noted, Lester Fagans was a “popular choice.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.