"I'm a person who loves challenges," says Rhode Island artist and mason Jim Gomes. "It's been like that all my life." For the past few years, Gomes has been meeting the challenge of constructing lighthouse replicas and the results have been landing Jim and his work on the pages of newspapers and on the TV news in his home state. On May 25, well over 100 attendees were treated to the unveiling of Jim's latest work, an astoundingly detailed replica of the 1857 Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett, Rhode Island.
The Point Judith replica was commissioned by fisherman Fred Mattera. At the unveiling ceremony at the South County Museum in Narragansett, Mattera told the audience, I've passed the light a thousand times, and it's the greatest thing when you're coming back home. Mattera has been an active member of the Point Judith Fisherman's Cooperative. He became well acquainted with the work of the Sunderland Marine Mutual Insurance Company, a world leader in the insuring of fishing vessels.
Mattera decided that a replica of his favorite lighthouse would make a perfect gift to be sent to Sunderland's home offices in England. And in Jim Gomes, he had found just the right person to create the replica. "I've been so blessed to know Jim as a great artisan and as a friend," said Mattera.
The unveiling event, which took place during a driving rainstorm, was a variety show of sorts. Gomes related many humorous anecdotes about his life as an artist and mason and talked about his earlier baseball career (many people thought he'd make the Majors as a pitcher). There was even music, with Gomes's 16-year-old cousin Colin Nagel wowing the audience by playing and singing a pair of Billy Joel songs. But Gomes's work took center stage when the Point Judith replica, almost 3 feet tall and more than 100 pounds, was revealed.
Gomes has been a mason for over 20 years and has created many custom fireplaces, walls and stone walks. As he has done with each of his sculptures, he built the Point Judith replica one tiny handcut, chiseled, tumbled and polished stone at a time, replicating the process of the masons who built the real lighthouse. He even made the tower look like it had been blasted by salt spray, just like the real thing. Everything from the steel door with a "Point Judith Lighthouse" plaque to the interior cast iron stairway was reproduced in intimate detail.
Gomes's previous lighthouse replicas have included Rhode Island's Castle Hill and Dutch Island lights, and Massachusetts' Gay Head and Edgartown lights. At the unveiling event, he presented his Edgartown replica to his friend and mentor, Rhode Island sculptor, Armand LaMontagne. LaMontagne is acclaimed as the greatest wood sculptor in the United States.
Gomes is also an accomplished wood sculptor, and at the event at the South County Museum, he surprised everyone, especially his father, by unveiling a new relief portrait of his father. Jim has sculpted bas reliefs in wood of various subjects, lighthouses included. The relief sculptures can be cast in bronze or pewter for smaller and more affordable reproductions.
What's next? Always in search of a challenge, Gomes is talking about building replicas of European castles. But he's not likely to lose his enthusiasm for creating lighthouses "which are, after all, the castles of our country" anytime soon. He'd love to speak with lighthouse preservation organizations about how his work might be able to help them with fundraising. For more about Jim Gomes and his work, check his website at www.jimgomes.com
This story appeared in the
November 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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