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An Art Gallery on a Boat? Meet Douglas Hazelton

Self-taught artists frequently surprise with their work.  Canadian born Douglas Hazelton has been perfecting his sculpture in wood and metal since he began experimenting in 1970. 

Hazelton arrived in the Caribbean in 1967 and has had such nautical ventures as ‘Captain Crunch’s Glass Bottom Boat,’ running dinner cruises around St Martin, salvage operations, and operating a schooner for charter.  In1990 he bought his current vessel, Sindbad, a 1930 Dublin registered (“my wife is Irish and all aboard are Irish,”) Belgium-flagged (“to take advantage of new EU laws,”) cargo ship.

 “We had four boats before this one and they gradually got bigger.  We realised that sailing was not where it was at, it was really space.  If you are going to live on a boat on the sea, which became the most important thing for us, not to sail, any mode of transport will do to just live comfortably on a boat.  This is a big old cargo ship which we converted, cut in half to put in cabins and my workshop.  It is enormous.  It was a rough, rusty old ship but it had a beautiful engine and it got us from Denmark, where we bought it, to St Martin.”  In 1996 Douglas and his family set off around the world in Sindbad, financing the ten year trip with his metal sculptures. 

“I have been welding a long, long time,” he says. “I even tried some stainless steel artwork twenty five years ago.  If you have a steel ship you have to know how to weld.  Copper just came naturally. I love copper, silver and silver brazing. This is different welding, done with a brazing torch, heating the copper and repoussé, (beating and/or punching the copper from the back to emboss the surface), then welding it together with silver solder.  

“I made a turtle shell from old copper nails from a wooden boat, heated up, pounded flat and made the plates for a Hawksbill Turtle, like a shingle effect.”  Most of the ten pieces Douglas makes a year are inspired by the sea and range from fish with iridescent patinas to Pelicans.  Prices start at US$1500 for smaller works.

Douglas outlines the thinking behind his work by saying, “My philosophy for my work today is that I feel that this world is made up of rubbish.  Everything we buy has a date on it and it dies usually before that date.  We are happy to throw it away and buy another one.  I am so pleased with my work because it is all copper and silver and it is proud.  These are all proud metals which don’t dissolve, don’t disintegrate; they are going to be there for a long, long time. You can throw it into the sea and not find it until fifty years later and it will still be in good nick.  So I like to think of my work as something not ‘throw away.’  This is so important to me because my life is spent repairing pieces of junk that come aboard my boat, pumps, motors and such like.”

Douglas is a member of the Art Lovers Association on St Martin which annually exhibits one work by each of its fifty members.  Those interested in seeing more of an artist’s work can visit the individual’s studio. 

Douglas’ recent exhibition displayed twenty two works on board his gallery on Sindbad and attracted several hundred visitors.  “It was non-stop, fantastic,” he enthuses grinning. “A great idea and now I am calling the ship The Art Gallery Ship Sindbad, I will probably do a couple more shows.”

British-born Penny Legg has a regular column ‘Thoughts of an Expat’ in The Anguillian, www.anguillian.com She writes for magazines and newspapers in the Caribbean, US and UK.  She loves to take the photographs which accompany her work.  She is married with one son and currently lives on Anguilla.

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