Rolf Klep


With a combination of keen detail and Impressionist abstraction, artist and illustrator Rolf Klep created this compelling image of sailors on a lively sea. The sailboat is detailed: Its shrouds and sheets, the traveler, are carefully rendered. The taut curve of the mainsail, mirrored in the boom, shows the tensions from a stiff wind on the port bow. The young woman is in action, ready to go forward. The helmsman has to steady the craft with two hands on the tiller as the boat tries to head up into the wind. The third crewman looks intently down the leeward side, struggling to put on a jacket against the spray.The water and weather are more abstract, giving the feeling rather than the exact look of wind and waves. The white-tipped chop, blown with spume, builds to windward; dark gray streaks show rain.This is sailing, and what sailor wouldn’t want to be on board?

Klep—a self-described “river rat”—was just such a sailor at heart. Born in Oregon in 1904, he grew up in Astoria on the Columbia River, enthralled by the array of ships and boats he saw around him. At age 14 he could resist no more. He got a summer job as a deckhand on a tourist ferry.

His career as a commercial artist and illustrator began in 1935, with an assignment for Fortune. Klep’s ink-on-paper work would be in demand for the next 30 years, appearing in publications such as Newsweek, Life and Woman’s Home Companion. With his maritime background, he gravitated to yachting magazine covers, as well.

The artist retired in 1962 to help found the Columbia River Maritime Museum, an organization dedicated to preserving the region’s maritime history. Today, the museum’s collection includes some 30,000 objects, 20,000 photographs and a 10,000-volume research library. More of Klep’s work can be seen at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue.