Mark Sutherland

Mark’s purpose as a model shipbuilder is to express traditional 19th century marine design and aesthetics through the lens of his own experience and artistic sensibility. His desire is to enhance the expressive elements of the maritime arts through his own design interpretations while being true to historical accuracy, form and function.

His professional career as a craftsman began in 1979, when he was twenty-five. “I had been preparing for this since age four, when I realized that ships and the sea were the major interest in my life. In the 18 years since 1979, I have been immersed in the same imagery: ships and boats of the 19th and early 20th century, along with scrimshaw artifacts, decorative ship carving, and figureheads.”

A major influence on Mark’s work has been his direct contact with antique marine folk art and scrimshaw through conservation and restoration projects he has done. Because this activity requires matching construction and paint styles, it has helped me develop his own style through the synthesis of all that he has learned. Consequently, he tries to impart an antique aesthetic into his new work. What he has learned from the disassembly and restoration of these artifacts is virtually unobtainable through institutional study.

Bone, a seldom used material today, is used frequently both in restoration and new construction projects. His first commissions were for small models of whaling ships made of bone and he learned to work the material on his own and after ten years felt that he had gained mastery. The texture, patina and grain of bone is distinctive and gives a rich finish to the piece. In combination with the judicious use of paint, the contrast between paint and bone can be striking. His bone work forms a direct link to the traditional sailors’ art of scrimshaw.

All Mark’s work is based on a long tradition of maritime ways and knowledge. Specifically, wooden ship and boat design and construction, masts and rigging, figureheads and decorative carving, color schemes and maritime history. He has assimilated all this through research and working on period artifacts. To maintain integrity with these maritime traditions, his work must be historically accurate as well as aesthetically pleasing.

In recent years Mark has become involved with surface qualities in hsi work. This includes texture, color, patina as used to enhance the impact of the piece. This has led to an exploration of traditional oil painting materials and techniques and their application.

My most satisfying projects are his own original designs, or ways of displaying the models that allow for originality in a historical context. Artistic interpretation is important to Mark’s work, so he avoids exact miniaturization and duplication. He wants each piece to stand on its own artistic merit and not viewed as an exact representation to be compared with the original or some imaginary ideal. This can often be the case with shipmodels. His writings about this issue have been published in the “Nautical Research Journal,” a magazine for maritime scholars and model builders.

Mark’s ultimate goal as an artist is to integrate the craft of shipmodel building with the realm of fine art. His studies of art and art history have helped expand and sharpen his aesthetic sense. The lessons learned from an artistic approach to life have brought me steps closer to this goal.