Thomas Catlett Skinner’s office was a loft overlooking the dry dock at the Newport News shipyard. Frequently he would gather his tools and wander through the yard, stopping to observe and document the many scenes unfolding before him. A vat of molten steel. Red hot metal beams being bent into shape. Yards of canvas transformed into sails. The welcome respite of a lunch break. The intensity of a foreman’s face. A ship being refitted for the next voyage. Scenes that were rarely seen by anyone outside the shipyard and activities that many people never knew existed.
Skinner’s tools were paint, pencils, canvas and paper. His loft workspace shook with the unending pounding from riveting hammers and vibrations from heavy machinery. And when he set up his easel beside the piers, dry docks and workers, he was surrounded by noise and dirt and exposed to the fickleness of the weather. Yet despite the adversity, he created amazing drawings and paintings that transport the viewer back in time. His body of work contains striking, colorful images that make it easy to imagine all the noises in the shipyard, the sound and feeling of waves acting on a ship and the harsh sounds of battle. Today, as part of our 90th Anniversary celebration, we take a look at the Mariners’ Museum staff artist, Thomas Skinner, some of his work, and its importance.