It’s a choppy day in Massachusetts’ Vineyard Sound as two sailors pass the Great Round Shoal lightship, one of the many light vessels that emerged in the 19th century to mark a safe passage through the sound during periods of heavy fog in the spring and summer seasons. Artist William Davis, who enjoys painting historical scenes, says the lightship “was a common sight for many people who sailed that sound. That’s why I thought it would be fun to include it in the painting.”
Davis started painting in the late 1970s at his kitchen table when he came home at night from working in the family construction business. “I always had the ambition to do something with painting, but I never thought I could make a living as an artist,” he says. With no formal training past his fine art classes in high school, he learned as he went, and eventually started making more money from selling his paintings than from his day job. So, he left the family business and never looked back.
Davis grew up sailing as a kid in Hyannis Port in Cape Cod, taking his family’s three sailboats up and down the coast. “We were gone all day and came home late at night,” he says. “It was an interesting childhood.” So, he naturally gravitated towards painting maritime subjects, particularly period pieces featuring old lightships and lighthouses. And although accuracy is paramount in such paintings, Davis likes to include unique touches to make each piece his own.
In this painting, titled “Pilot Whales Off Great Round Shoal Lightship, Vineyard Sound,” those unique touches are the pilot whales at the sailboat’s bow, as well as the sailors pointing towards them excitedly. “Having seen pilot whales myself on the water, I thought I would put them in the painting and make them translucent, so you could just see the shadows of them moving through the water,” says Davis. “I thought that added a twist to the painting. I keep trying to come up with new ideas to keep it different.”
This article was originally published in the February 2022 issue.