End of the Monitor

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Oil painting by Marek Sarba

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Cape Hatteras in the early hours of New Year’s Eve, 1862. The USS Monitor has hoisted her red lantern to signal that she needs help as the tow vessel Rhode Island — her hawsers cut — drifts down on the ironclad in heavy seas and gale-force winds.

Waves crash over the Union warship, which had been under tow to Beaufort, North Carolina, almost 10 months after making history in an epic battle with the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads, Virginia. Water has been pouring into the engine room through openings in the gun turret and the deck faster than it can be pumped out. The situation is dire: 63 crewmembers are aboard the helpless, foundering ship. Sixteen would not survive.

With her boilers cold, the fires extinguished by seawater, the order is given to abandon ship. In Marek Sarba’s dramatic oil painting, a small cutter has come alongside the Monitor to take off such crew as it can. Men are risking their lives to save others while the sea menaces them all.

As Sarba, a resident of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, created this scene, he felt the heaving deck, smelled the sea, tasted the salt spray. The Polish-born artist comes from the tradition of sailor-painters, having spent much of his life working at sea. He served in the Polish navy, rose to chief electrician at Poland’s Gdansk Shipyard and worked aboard oceangoing salvage tugs — modern versions of the Rhode Island — towing disabled ships from ports of call around the world to be scrapped.

Sarba’s experiences lend his paintings immediacy and a sense of being there that has won him international acclaim. “Marek’s paintings bring us face to face with the ocean and all of its majestic power and glory,” says one gallery owner. “Through his work, we not only sense the beauty of the sea but also the almost religious awe it can inspire in the rugged individuals who spend their lives battling its elemental power.”

Sarba puts it simply: “I paint what I know.”

To view this and other works by Marek Sarba, visit the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery website at www.jrusselljinishiangallery.com or visit the gallery at 1899 Bronson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut.

October 2014 issue