It always gives me great pleasure to be able to produce special commissions for clients.
There is usually a special story or memory that gives rise to these requests. Very often it involves a lot of research which opens doors and adds to my knowledge about the places, times and history related to the commission subject. This knowledge provides the context and depth reflected in the final product.
In 2020/2021 I completed the following commissions:
“The Train that Went to Sea”
A very unique request was to illustrate the history of the "train that went to sea" (Google the historical film). Prior to the rail line from Squamish to North Vancouver being completed, trains had to be transported to Squamish from Vancouver to join the northbound Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) line. In this painting we see the tug 'Point Ellise' easing the rail barge 'No. 2' into the Squamish terminal at the north end of Howe Sound.
“A Family Affair”
An interesting commission has just been completed for the son of a well known Steveston fishing family. It shows one of the Grandfathers fish packers the Princess Aleta and the gillnetter Runnin Bear part of the mosquito fleet (cheap plywood boats canneries built and issued to teenagers each summer) Each summer the Phoenix Cannery mosquito boats were towed to Rivers Inlet in a line behind one of the seiners to work in that region for a few weeks. The Father started fishing when he was 16 during the summer holidays, before he had a driver’s license, and continued every summer through university. Locally, the mosquito boats often worked in the Albion box because they had shallow draft, flat bottoms and frequently ended up dry on the sandbars.
“Return of the Boats”
I have a client who has spent his life towing logs in B.C. He also has a fascination for history and has collected several of my Captain Vancouver works over the years. Menzies Bay, north of Campbell River, has long been a booming ground for the lumber industry and a place into which my client has often towed log rafts. Knowing that Vancouver had anchored his two ships there in July 1792, a painting depicting this would have special meaning. Prior to Vancouver arriving in Menzies Bay (named after Menzies, the botanist on board), the ships’ boats had been sent away for several days of survey work around Quadra Island. The painting was planned to record the evening of July 14th when the boats returned the ships. I made a special trip on the ‘Delta Lifeboat’, anchoring in the very spot where ‘Discovery’ lay and soaked up the atmosphere – studying the phase of the moon and the stars. The date was identical to Vancouver’s, albeit 228 years later!
“Meeting at Goa Haven”
An interesting commission from which I gained knowledge of the work of the Hudson Bay Company in the artic. My painting was for the cover of a new book "Called by the North" by George H.S. Duddy. It illustrated the meeting of two HBC vessels, the 'Fort McPherson" and the 'Fort James'. As 'Fort James' had sailed from St. John's Newfoundland and 'Fort McPherson' had sailed from Vancouver, the two ships became the first ever Canadian built ships to navigate the northwest passage.
I was asked to create a painting of the yacht 'Sealise' owned by the treasurer of of the B.C. squadron of Royal Naval Sailing Association. The yacht, a Peterson, was originally owned by the the lady's parents and was a huge part of her life. Some years ago, her parents had sailed 'Sealise' across the Atlantic from Vancouver to Denmark and return. Truly an epic voyage. With so much family history, a close friend commissioned the work as a surprise Christmas present. I am assured it now hangs in a place of honour.
“Arnold Carson’s ‘Vilma’ and Farm”
Since moving to Tsawwassen Mary and I have supported Delta Museum and Archives. My painting of Port Guichon now hangs in the Douglas J. Husband Discovery Centre and perhaps because of this I was commissioned to create a paining of the fishing vessel 'Vilma' along side the Carson family farm on Annacis Island. This of course predates the industrial estate that now covers the island. The Carson family had recently donated records and archival material still held in their possession to the centre. The painting records a visual representation of the property to go along with the donated items.
“Towards Chrome Island”
I was contacted by a gentleman who wanted a painting of the tug 'John Davidson'. His father had worked aboard but he only had very small, old, black and white snapshots and wanted a more meaningful record. The 'John Davidson', built in 1926 by the Star Shipyard, is named after after a lighthouse keeper at Cape Mudge on Quadra Island. She was 75' 6" overall. She was seen often towing log rafts out of Baynes Sound. The painting shows the tug in her Fraser Mills livery approaching Chrome Island.
“Amsterdam – the Glory Days”
Over the centuries the, the Dutch mariners have travelled the world, opening up colonies and trading routes. In the early days, fleets of Dutch ships brought riches home from far and wide. This commission for a gentleman who is of Dutch decent reminds him of those days of yore when Amsterdam was home to the rich merchants and the port was expanding to house the incoming ships.
Own a miniature John Horton work of art – produced by the Royal Canadian Mint
In 2006 I was pleased to win a commission with my design of a ketch that was released as a commemorative coin in the “Tall Ship” collection. Since the success of that coin I have been invited to submit designs for other coins. The mint requests selected artists to submit proposals based on strict guidelines. During my research one can learn a lot about subjects not previously at the top of one’s list of subjects to paint. The two coins currently available are: A coin produced in 2013 celebrating the capture of the USS Chesapeake by HMS Shannon during the War of 1812. Gold, silver and platinum coins were produced with this image and at the time of writing a few of the coins were still available. Please see the Royal Canadian Mint web site to purchase. The second coin is a silver coin produced to commemorate the 300th of Louisbourg (Nova Scotia). Mary’s family is from here and she really enjoyed helping me with the research. The image depicts the early days of trade and commerce built on the fishing industry and the defenses established to protect it.
I have recently completed a commission for famed yacht designer, Ron Holland. His love of sail goes back to childhood and he especially respects and admires the great clipper ships and their crews. The unbelievably fast tea races that captured the hearts of every Englishman are of special interest – the first ship to reach London made a fortune for the owner and ship’s crew. The ships sailed so well that up to six of them could arrive at the London dock on the same tide. That must have been an incredible thing to see! In my painting I have attempted to show the size and power of these vessels which would have every line straining to breaking point and sails threatening to explode as the crews push their ships to the limit.
“Departure of the Empress”
Babe Ruth plays ball in Vancouver then departs on the Empress of Japan for a tour of Japan Why was this painting produced? John painted this image for a client who had accumulated a number of items of memorabilia - menus from the voyage, baseball gloves and balls and a letter from the Ship’s captain. This painting was produced to tell the story of this fabulous time in baseball’s history and to marry the visit to Vancouver, the game, and the departure of Babe and his cohorts on the Empress of Japan from the old Pier BC, which is now of course Canada Place, for a ball playing tour of Japan. Notes copied from the Vancouver Sun website dated October 18, 1934 - If you were a rabid baseball fan waiting at the CPR station in Vancouver October 18, 1934, you might have had trouble breathing. Stepping down from the train that day were Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Charlie Gehringer, Heinie Manush, Lefty O'Doul, manager Connie Mack and more than a dozen other superstars of the game. They'd come to play an exhibition game at Athletic Park, which stood at West 6th and Hemlock. The Babe's team was called “Babe Ruth's All Americans,” and they would play the “American League All-Stars.” (Off-season barnstorming like this of squads made up of players from various teams was eventually stopped.) Three thousand fans showed up the next day in pelting rain that lasted the whole game, with the field ankle-deep in mud, but the players—the Babe included—stayed, and so did the crowd. Said Lefty O'Doul in the dugout, “Say, this is some baseball town, isn't it? Back in Portland there weren't five hundred out and on a bright and sunny day.” Ruth, who had hit 60 home runs for the Yankees a couple of years earlier, told the Sun's Hal Straight that nobody would ever hit 60 again. Notes following were copied from the CPR web site - The Empress of Japan carried out her sea trial successfully in May 1930, achieving a top speed of 23 knots; and on 8 June 1930, she was delivered to Vancouver for service on the trans-Pacific route. In this period, she was the fastest ocean liner on the Pacific. Due to being a part of Canadian Pacific's service carrying Royal Mail, the Empress of Japan carried the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) prefix in front of her name while in commercial service with Canadian Pacific. She would continue sailing the Vancouver-Yokohama-Kobe-Shanghai-Hong Kong route for the rest of the decade. Amongst her celebrity passengers were a number of American baseball all-stars, including Babe Ruth, who sailed aboard the Empress of Japan in October 1934 en route to Japan.
“The Secret Voyage”
Samuel Bawlf’s book about Sir Francis Drake (The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake) has stirred the imagination of many people. Did Drake sail north as far as the coast of British Columbia? One of my clients was so intrigued by the concept that he commissioned me to produce a work that would recreate a possible meeting of Drake and his men with the natives of the coast. He chose Comox as a possible area of contact based on Bawlf’s writings. A point of concern for me was the design of native canoes and habitat as most of the records we use are from the 1700’s onward. But what were they like in the 1500’s? Talking with native historians we could only imagine that their designs would not have changed much. So we are left with many unanswered questions to further stimulate the mind.