Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2015

A Tale of Two Paintings

By Timothy Harrison


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Jim McCormick with his painting of the 1945 cover ...
Photo by: Timothy Harrison

At last October’s Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival in Alpena, Michigan, I ran into Jim McCormick, an artist from Illinois, who had a booth at the festival where he was selling his artwork. Although he had many fabulous paintings of lighthouses, the one that caught my attention was his painting of the September, 1945 edition of The Saturday Evening Post that depicted Maine’s West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. After introducing myself and talking about his artwork, I asked him if he knew the story behind the original artwork that was used for the cover of the magazine. He did not, so I gave him a copy of my book Lighthouses of the Sunrise County that gives an abridged explanation of the image.

During our conversation, I casually mentioned that it would be neat to have his painting on display at the Ron Pesha Museum at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. The following day, to my surprise, Mr. McCormick said that he’d like to donate the painting and asked if I would I take it back to Maine where it could hopefully go on display at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. Naturally I told him that I’d be delighted to take it to Maine and offer it to the folks at West Quoddy Head. He agreed.

The story behind The Saturday Evening Post cover is interesting in itself. In the 1940s, noted photographer and artist Stevan Dohanos visited West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, the easternmost lighthouse on the mainland of the continental United States. Dohanos took a large number of photographs and made a number of sketches of the lighthouse during the time that Howard “Bob” Gray was the lighthouse keeper.

Back in his studio, Dohanos, with his preliminary sketches and a few photos in hand, started to create a painting of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. However, he had trouble getting inspired. So to help refresh his lighthouse inspiration, he decided to visit Sankaty Head Lighthouse on Nantucket, Massachusetts.

At that time, according to the editor of The Saturday Evening Post, it turned out that Mr. Dohanos realized that Sankaty Head Lighthouse had a “very strong personality of its own,” and wasn’t much good as a source of information on the situation at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. “However, they were cutting the grass at Sankaty Light and Dohanos liked that touch of domesticity or agriculture or whatever it is, so he included it.”

So, basically, although Dohanos never actually witnessed lighthouse keeper Howard “Bob” Gray on his knees trimming the grass around the base of the tower at West Quoddy Head Light, he simply painted him into the scene. This was a neat trick, which back in those days could only be done in the world of art. They could not have imagined then, that in the future, people could sit in front of a computer and change or add to photos practically at the touch of the keyboard.

Now, Jim McCormick’s impressionistic painting of artist Stevan Dohanos’ painting of Maine’s West Quoddy Head Lighthouse will always be at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse to tell a tale of two different but similar artists from two different states, about two different but similar lighthouses, also from two different states.


Jim McCormick, who spends his summers near Michigan’s Point aux Barques Lighthouse, studied under noted maritime artist Charles Vickery. Although he has painted many historic structures, such as his award winning depiction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home “Fallingwater,” and his image of the Chicago Board of Trade building, which hangs in the office of the president of the Chicago Board of Trade, his biggest interest is in lighthouses and Great Lake freighters. Jim and his wife Eva reside in Lombard, Illinois. You can reach him via e-mail at fjamesmccormick1@aol.com.

Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994) painted over 125 magazine covers. For many years he was the chief illustrator for the design of many United States postage stamps. In 1984, the United States Postal Service’s Hall of Stamps in Washington D.C. was dedicated in his honor.

The Saturday Evening Post was published by the Curtis Publishing Co. that was once owned by Cyrus H. K. Curtis. In August of 1934, Maine’s Negro Island Lighthouse was renamed Curtis Island Lighthouse in honor of Cyrus H. K. Curtis. A story, with historic photos, about the Curtis Island Lighthouse ceremony and the name change that was held at the time, can be found in the August, 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest. The story is also available in our on-line archive at www.LighthouseDigest.com.

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2015 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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