Written by Robert Selby
When I was a newspaper illustrator I often employed multiple images, such as the leaves of a sketchbook, to explore the facets of a subject. So the artist’s sketchbook struck me as the solution to a problem I had contemplated when I undertook my deployment with the Coast Guard Art Program (COGAP) in 2014. At the time, I was flying to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to rendezvous with the ice breaker, Coast Guard Cutter Healy. My subject was Coast Guard support for scientific research, and the problem was covering the full story of an ice breaker mission with a single work of art.
With much help and support from the information technology staff aboard the Healy, the Coast Guard Compass blog and COGAP director, Mary Ann Bader, I was able to establish a daily “live” blog from the ship to the Compass dispatched daily from the Arctic. From the bridge to the engine room, I sketched and interviewed members of the crew and the scientists about their work. Ultimately, I did produce a painting that addressed the Healy support for science, but the sketchbook also allowed me to accomplish a series of drawings and commentary that highlighted the fact that every Coast Guard job is vital.
I had my Healy experience squarely in mind more recently when I deployed to Puerto Rico in late May. By the time I was in a position to take on a new COGAP project, much of the Coast Guard’s work in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria was done. But, fortunately for my new assignment, the broader mission of the U.S. Coast Guard in Puerto Rico is never done. As I made my way to Coast Guard Sector San Juan, another sketchbook struck me as a good complement for the painting I had planned.
This time I was embedded with the crew of the sentinel-class cutter, the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos. Aboard fast response cutters anything not firmly fixed will move, so sketching directly from life can get interesting. At times, I found, sketching required a robust memory. I also found that the engagement with the subject that drawing demands sharpened my powers of observation. I witnessed drug interdiction, migrant interception and a response to a distress call as I followed the cutter’s missions from San Juan to the Dominican Republic.
Most importantly, I would say, the sketchbook approach allowed me to appreciate the challenge that the Coast Guard faces at that crucial corner of the hemisphere. I observed the Coast Guard devotion to duty that I expected, but I was privileged to witness something more. As I, too, endured the same long hours, I saw first-hand how much the commander and crew of the Tezanos invested in order to enforce the law with respect for justice and human dignity. The sketchbook allowed me the latitude to chronicle not only what CO Lt. Cmdr. Mario Gil, commanding officer of the Tezanos, Lt. j.g. Timothy Hulse, executive officer of the Tezanos and the rest of their officers and crew did – but how.
The energetic effort of public relations officer Ricardo Castrodad of Sector San Juan made my project possible, and the crew of the Tezanos made me feel like one of them during my time aboard. I am grateful for all the help and support I received, and I hope that in some small way, my sketchbook serves to enlighten readers about the important work they do.
To download a PDF copy of the Tezanos sketchbook, please click here.
Bob’s artistic deployment was made possible by retired Navy Capt. Thomas Schaefer, who gave a generous donation to the Coast Guard Art Program. The program uses fine art as an outreach tool for educating diverse audiences about the Coast Guard. Art is displayed at museums, libraries and patriotic events; in offices of members of Congress, senior officials of the executive branch of government and other military services; and at Coast Guard locations throughout the country. Coast Guard artists—most of whom are professional artists—volunteer their time and talents to help COGAP fulfill its goals. Art focuses on the daily missions performed by Coast Guard men and women. The program, celebrating its 37th anniversary, is a partnership between the Coast Guard and the Salmagundi Club, a New York City artistic and cultural center. The Club helps COGAP in myriad ways, including administration of Schaefer’s donation.
For more information please view the art program website or contact Mary Ann Bader, Coast Guard Art Program coordinator by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 202-372-4643. Images from the art program may be viewed here.