Over a long career, marine artist Robert Sticker gave his viewers a behind-the-scenes perspective of multiple corners of the maritime world, from whalers and fishing boats to warships and steamers. He painted a crew
handling sails on a square-rigger, a sailor at the wheel in rough weather and men unloading a riverboat. Though considered mundane tasks at the time, these scenes provide a glimpse of an older way of life.
Sticker grew up on Staten Island, New York, watching ships and boats traveling through New York Harbor. After serving in the Navy in World War II, he began painting as a hobby, studying part-time at The Art Students League of New York. He attended school as a full-time student at age 41.
In “The Sounding Party,” he takes us to one of the great rivers in America, the Mississippi. The sidewheeler Republic idles on the far bank as a crew in a small boat takes soundings. The man at the bow uses a long pole to test the bottom of this often-treacherous marine highway. Muddy and shallow, there were shifting sand banks and dizzying currents, along with eddies and snags that could pierce wooden hulls.
In the late 19th century, hundreds of riverboats plied the Mississippi. Some carried goods up and down her length. Others were venues for weddings, banquets, circuses and theaters. Republic was known for her luxurious accommodations. She had salons with cut-glass windows and cushioned seats, dining rooms with exquisite food, oil paintings in the hallways, and heated staterooms. The level of comfort was unparalleled by most homes and hotels.
Sticker, who passed away in 2011 at age 89, amassed a loyal following over his career, and he is remembered for his ability to poignantly depict life on the water.
This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.