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Why George Wasson is Worth Remembering

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Slipped his moorings

After the death of their two sons, unable to live among the memories of their life in Kittery Point, George Wasson and his wife Amalie moved to Bangor in 1916. Wasson painted, and carved, and sailed, and wrote as long as his fading eyesight allowed. His final book about sailing on the Penobscot appeared the year after his death in 1932.

Wasson was a good writer, his friend Fannie Eckstorm noted, because he was a good painter. And he was a good maritime painter, she said, because he knew how to sail and to build boats. Wasson knew what a boat looked like below the water and he was an expert in the design and rigging of small ships. He worked quickly, often completing a painting in a single day. And he was his own best critic. Unhappy with a painting he did for a captain at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, legend says, he placed it on the edge of four chairs, took a running leap, and jumped into the middle of the canvas.

His legacy, what survives of it, grows stronger as one heads Downeast. Wasson did for the Penobscott, someone once wrote, what Mark Twain did for Mississippi. As he lay dying in Bangor in 1932, his doctor reportedly said, “I hear they’ve got you hauled up in drydock.” Wasson replied, “Yep, hauled up for good this time.” The artist slipped his moorings at high water, by a friend’s account, and disappeared with the tide.

“To me, the real hook is the window Wasson gives into our own neighborhood as it was about a hundred years ago,” says Greg Gathers, who is about to bring Wasson’s work to the stage.

“Wasson gives us a fly-on-the-wall perspective,” Greg says, “and it's completely unsentimental – very much ‘warts and all’–there's no nostalgic veil in the way.  I also really respect the great lengths he went to in reproducing the local dialect and culture; his stories feel very authentic.”

For lobsterman David Kaselauskas, the connection is visceral. He sailed in one day from the south and settled. He shares the same view of the harbor, fishes the same waters, and has become part of the village history. The goal the two men share has nothing to do with wealth or fame. Their goal is always the same – to spend one more day on the sea, return home safely, tell tales, and cast off again.

 

Copyright © 2012 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site SeacoastNH.com. Robinson is the author of America’s Privateer: Lynx and the War of 1812. His new e-book novella, Kill All the Vampire Writers, is available instantly on Amazon.com.

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