Gray, Jack L.
Birth Date/Place: April 28, 1927, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Death Date/Place: September 4, 1981, West Palm Beach, Florida, USA
Sources for the biographical information include Wikipedia, "Stonehurst by the Sea" [Cameron House Publishers], and communication with Chester residents. Additional biographical notes, observations on Gray's techniques in marine painting, and images of paintings currently available for purchase, may be found on the websites of the galleries listed below.
Vallejo Gallery, Newport Beach, CA
Marine Arts Gallery, Salem, MA
Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, GA
Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, AL
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA
Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach, FL
Cameron's Fine Art Gallery, Chester, NS
Born in Nova Scotia in 1927, Jack Lorimer Gray spent much of his adult life traveling away from the province and then inevitably being drawn back, especially to the South Shore where he could indulge his passion - a love of boats. As a boy Gray loved drawing and, even then, his focus was on ships at sea. As a teenager he spent two years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and during the summer he boarded with a family on East Ironbound Island, later using those sketches of island life to create large paintings. During the summer of 1947, he and fellow artist Joseph Purcell rented the loft of a fish store at New Harbour, NS, where they made drawings and paintings. Gray traveled to Montreal in 1948 to take a course in life drawing from Arthur Lismer at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts but soon returned to his first love: boats.
After several seasons at sea with the dory-fishing schooner fleet, Gray had a portfolio of sketches, notes and photographs that he used as the basis for his first solo exhibition, in Chester, at the Hackmatack Inn, in 1948. That opportunity led to several commissions from wealthy Americans and the patronage of members of Halifax's Oland family. He also did pen-and-ink drawings to illustrate Thomas H. Raddall's novel, A Master of Arms.
During his summers in Chester, he rented space over a boathouse owned by Herman Walker, in the Back Harbour, to use as a studio, using Graves' apple juice crates for an easel. From 1948 to 1952 he would dock his boat "Kathleen RH", at the Walker's wharf. He still occasionally went to sea with the fishermen. In late summer or early fall he and his wife would leave for the city where his art dealer was. 1953-1955 he spent his winters in Dartmouth NS.
In 1956 Gray moved to New York and painted aboard boats. He was represented by several commercial galleries and some of this work was later reproduced as the New York Harbor Collection. In 1958 he was hired to do a series of sketches for the movie, "John Paul Jones". This work brought him to the attention of a wider audience and increased his recognition as an artist.
After the movie work, Gray moved to a house in Winterport Maine, and it was there, between 1959 and 1961 (according to art dealer Ian Muncaster) that Gray produced many of his best works.
Gray returned to Halifax in late 1961 where he had a property on the Northwest Arm, with a dock for his boat. When word got out that his painting Dressing Down, the Gully had been presented to newly-elected US president John F. Kennedy, Gray was sought out by many patrons and galleries
Many years later, after he had purchased a property in Blue Rocks, Carol Nauss was cleaning out her father's storage area and came across a tube containing a rolled-up water-colour that Gray had left behind in the boathouse. It is a view of the boathouse and the dock along with other buildings belonging to the Walkers. [ See the first image included here]
By the 1965, Gray had moved again, this time to Florida, although he kept a cottage at Stonehurst, NS, where he continued to paint inshore fishermen and their boats. In addition to his passion for painting boats, he also took an interest in modifying old boats for use as floating studios, and he once collaborated with a Canadian boat-yard in designing a custom yacht for a client. Gray visited Chester for the last time in September 1980, as a guest of Mary Dayton McNeely and Gerald Stevens.
Gray made his reputation primarily through his oil paintings although he was a skilled draftsman and water-colourist as well, but fewer of those pieces have survived. Gray never did use acrylic paints.
After his 1981 death in Florida, his ashes were brought back to Nova Scotia and scattered at sea near the mouth of Lunenburg Bay. The value of his art gradually increased as galleries began holding retrospective exhibitions and, in 2006, one particular painting - Man at Sea - sold at auction in NYC for $91,000.
Image 1985-9 "The Back Harbour at Chester, NS 1951" courtesy of AGNS
Image 1986-22 "Going to Church from Tancook Island 1955" courtesy of AGNS