From deep-sea fishing to art, Billy Anderson gives of his time

By George S. Chappell | Jul 27, 2018
Photo by: George Chappell Rockland artist Billy Anderson holds his painting of a trawler, a fishing boat common in Penobscot Bay. A trawler is a 138-foot vessel that carries a crew of nine and goes out to the deep sea. Anderson worked on an offshore trawler for more than 40 years.

Billy Anderson of Rockland made the transition from deep-sea fisherman to artist with composure when he retired. He made it seem easy in his new career, because inside, it was something he had wanted since he was a boy growing up in his native Port Clyde.

“I was a lobsterman when I was 12, with my own boat. I had 30 traps,” he said in a recent interview at the home on Grace Street, Rockland, where he lives with his wife, Cynthia, a retired registered nurse, and Fozzick, a mixed breed of Highland terrier and poodle.

At 77, Anderson combines a life of retirement with his new career as a painter, mostly of the nautical life he knew as a fisherman.

“I went fishing on an offshore trawler from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to New Jersey and New York for 47 years,” Anderson said. “We would go out with a nine-man crew and fish 260 days a year.

“I was the youngest mate on vessels for a lot of years,” he said.

He also served in the Navy from 1959 to 1961 and worked for the Maine State Ferry Service near the end of his time at sea, in 2000.

But he always dreamed of being an artist. As a boy of 7 in Port Clyde, he met many famous artists who lived there, and he was influenced by their work. He said he would see an artist sitting in a field painting, and go out and sit with him, observing his technique. He said the artists never seemed to mind his presence.

Still, painting would have to wait. Following graduation from St. George High School in 1959, he joined the Navy for two years and came home to take up the life of a fisherman to earn his living.

“In high school I was an athlete and a musician,” he said. “It was good growing up here in the 1950s.”

Anderson’s paintings of boats, old wharves, the rocks along the Maine coast and work on boats of what he calls “the old culture” of fishing adorn his walls and the walls of many of his friends and family. He says he wants to capture a way of life before it disappears, owing to new technology in the fishing industry.

“This town was a fishing community,” he said of Port Clyde.

“We used to bring in 350,000 pounds of fish, and the seas would break over the rails,” he said. “That way of life is all gone,” he added, attributing the changes to technology and greed.

He is also writing a book about the old culture of fishing, when a nine-man crew could operate a trawler.

As a painter, he feels that some of his early work is his best, when he was working in oils. Now he works in acrylics, because he lacks the patience to wait for the oil paint to dry, he said.

At first, he tried attending art classes, but soon found that he had different ideas about painting from those of his instructors. “I was rebellious,” he said. “I left school.”

A couple of friends encouraged him to “just start painting,” and he did.

He said since he started painting, he has earned the respect of a lot of artists.

“I like all art, and I listen to classical music when I paint. I don’t always know the songs, but they get to your soul,” he said.

He also likes crafts and sculpting, and makes knot boards, displays of seaman’s knots mounted on a board.

Although he has known the three artist generations of the Wyeth family, N.C., Andrew and Jamie, his favorite mentors are the late Wiscasset artists Abraham Bagdanove and Andrew Winters, noted for their paintings of Monhegan Island, and the late Edward Hopper, a realist painter of the Maine coast.

He is a good listener. He often gives of his time with friends, listening to their problems. He also believes in giving of his art.

“I only charge enough to pay for my paints and art supplies,” Anderson said. Many of his paintings he gives away.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Sandra Schramm | Jul 30, 2018 06:22

Excellent coverage of William Anderson, his art and details on the fishing industry that is fading and changing?  Thank you George Chappell for your continued skilled contribution to local journalism. You capture the details so well. It is easy to envision the scope of your interview with Billy Anderson and to become interested in his art.

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