Skipjack and Steamboat by Louis Feucher. Collections of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
Some of the most captivating artwork in the collections of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is by a maritime artist, Louis Feuchter (1885-1957), who worked in the early 20th century.
Log canoe race by Louis Feuchter. Collections of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
Feuchter was born in 1885 in the Patterson Park neighborhood of East Baltimore. At age 12, his talent was so promising that he won a scholarship to the Maryland Institute of Art, where he was formally trained in color, line, and technique, all deeply informed by the work of the late 19th century Impressionists. Feuchter went on to work as a silver designer for Baltimore’s renowned silver makers Kirk and Sons, and later worked as a sculptor, making clay models for decorative plasterwork. Laid off during the Depression, he lived the rest of his life in a tiny Baltimore rowhouse, caring for his ailing mother and creating art in a cramped bedroom.
Wharf and steamboat scene by Louis Feuchter. Collections of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
There were a few respites from Feuchter’s retreat into the confines of his little Baltimore house. During the summers, many of his happiest days were on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, when he vacationed at Wade’s Point near St Michaels. Maryland. There, a love of the Bay’s byways, landscapes and wooden boats was sparked that Feuchter would nurture for the rest of his life. Feuchter’s passion was ardent, but it was also well-timed. He captured the very end of the era of commercial sail on the Chesapeake, when
lumber, grain, and other goods were still carried to markets by schooners and steamboats. His
paintings depict with careful detail the world of the Bay in that last
of its working era, and the quiet beauty of Chesapeake coves that had
yet to be developed.
Eastern Shore waterfront scene, Louis Feuchter. Collections of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
Feuchter seldom left Baltimore except for his summer jaunts to the Eastern Shore, traveling by steamboat. Exploring the small, working communities of the Nanticoke, Choptank and Miles Rivers, he found pastoral settings for Chesapeake boats—bugeyes, schooners, log canoes and more—that he documented in precise detail. Feuchter’s paintings conveyed the peaceful, humid stillness of the Eastern Shore’s waterfront communities, their impressionistic strokes recreating the solace of an evening at anchor. Sensitive and filled with light and color, Feuchter captured the Chesapeake’s many charms without sentimentality or nostalgia.
Bugeye and log canoe in a Chesapeake cove by Louis Feuchter. Collections of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
In 1929 Feuchter commissioned a small sailing yacht, a sort of miniature skipjack, from Eastern Shore boatbuilder George Jackson. He used the boat to sail away from Baltimore down the Patapsco River in search of rural settings for his paintings of Chesapeake boats, and his own boat became the subject of many of his works.
Chesapeake pungy schooners by Louis Feuchter. Collections of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
One of Feuchter’s contemporaries, the photographer Hans Marx, wrote that he was, “a mild and unassuming man, with none of the airs you associate with artists.” Unfortunately, Feuchter’s softspoken demeanor may have been charming but it did little to bolster sales of his luminous paintings. His paltry income forced him to economize, and Feuchter often painted watercolors on scrap paper- old letters, bills or even calendars- to save money on costly canvas and oil paints.
Pungy schooner with full sails, by Louis Feuchter. Collections of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
Feuchter had some successes during his lifetime. A friendship with Mariner’s Museum curator Robert Burgess lead to a series of commissions of ship’s portraits in oil. It was exacting work, and Feuchter excelled at capturing the precise details of each vessel type, from bugeyes to crabbing skiffs, corresponding frequently with Burgess and other maritime experts to get elements like reef points and trailboard colors exactly right.
By the 1950′s Feuchter’s mother had died, and alone in the rowhouse, his own health began to deteriorate. Feuchter was confined to quick sketches of animals in nearby Druid Hill Park. His paints were put aside, and other than a few paintings that hung inside his home, the gentle spread of the Eastern Shore’s meandering marshes was now just a memory.
A log canoe on an Eastern Shore cove by Louis Feuchter. Collections of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
Feuchter died in 1957, leaving a legacy of work that represented the Chesapeake’s last days of sail. Serene, radiant, yet carefully detailed, his paintings evoke a Bay of beautiful, timeless simplicity. Elegant log canoes, burly bugeyes and saturated reflections of sky and trees wink like pennies in a wishing well, reminding viewers of what is there, just below the surface of the Chesapeake’s very near past.