Les Anderson - Artist/Sailor



By – Nancy Terrell


I met  Les Anderson some 15 years ago when I first moved to St. John.  He was bigger than life as both an artist and sailor.  Although we didn’t have a friendship at that time I always admired both he, and his wife Mary Blazine, from afar.  The only time I actually saw them was at Foxy’s, which was then held in September instead of over Memorial Day.  As I moved to the BVI in ’90 I continued watching Les’ artistic career grow from Caribbean circles into the international arena.  I always knew that he would find fame – it was just a question of when.  As Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta is now in its 28th year and Les has attended 27 of these famous races, I thought it was about time to record his thoughts concerning his life.  Obviously, the first thing I wanted to know was what brought him to the Caribbean from his native California.  Still handsome and youthful in his 50s he tells me,  “My love of the water began with diving trips I would take with my mother, a special effects airbrush artist for Disney Studios, to the Channel Islands off of the California coast starting in the late 1950s. My father was a musician and played pedal steel guitar with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.  He was an early western actor/musician and did a lot of early television western shows on channel 11, which was an affiliate of NBC in Los Angeles, California.  We traveled with the Country Western TV celebrity crowd.”


“I came to the Caribbean in 1969 and lived with Mannette and Desoto Bock, my mother and stepfather in East End, St John. The first boat I lived and worked on was Zebeck in 1969 in St. Thomas. Ironically, it was destroyed in East End in 1989, in Hurricane Hugo. I met Penny Poole, another aspiring artist, who painted on driftwood. We lived in a driftwood shack eating rice, beans and fish caught in the same bay where Zebeck perished. We painted during the day and I would spearfish at night. We had an old 13 ft. Boston whaler and took her from Coral Bay to Charlotte Amalie to sell our paintings on the waterfront. I was the first white itinerant vendor in St. Thomas in 1970. Times were tough - selling art off of the waterfront - so I went to work at Antilles Boatyard where I worked as a diesel mechanic.”  


“I traded in the whaler for a 40-year-old 25 ft. gaff-rigged sloop named Banschee, which I made into an engineless topsail cutter. Penny and I sailed and lived aboard her for 5 years. The boat leaked and I had to sleep with my arm over the side of the bunk to alert me as to when it was time to pump.  Once, while sailing in Martinique, I met up with Auggie Holland who was delivering a boat there from St. John, USVI.  He had recently finished building a Cowhorn boat named Taurus aka Sea Legs, Sea Shanty.  I wanted to build a boat also so Auggie sold me of a pile of gommier wood, from Dominica, that included glue and rudimentary scantlings lying in St. Thomas.  He encouraged me in the building so that he would have someone to race.”


“I headed back to Avery’s Boatyard in Frenchtown, St. Thomas and paid $250 for the materials Auggie had sold to me.  Manfred Dietrich, the Sailmaker, who still attends all of Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regattas, helped me tow the materials over to Hassle Island. I had never done any type of carpentry before and felt that I had few woodworking skills.  However, I set forth to build a traditional schooner measuring some 34 feet LOA with a 12 foot beam and 5 foot draft.  I spent the next year and a half building Penelope, the boat that I still have and race.”  


She was launched in 1972. On her maiden voyage we went to Antigua Race Week and won The Traditional Cup, which was a high for me to, say the least.  From ‘72-75 I built small boats at Hassle Island and continued in doing shipwright work. In 1975 I moved to St. Barths and tried my luck at renovating a little Cha-cha house in Gustavia from my good friend Lou Lou Magras. This was the heyday of the St. Barths Regatta and a glorious chapter in my life.  St. Barths was a haven for wooden cruising boats.  While there, I designed a small cold mould dinghy that was attractive, lightweight and durable. It was a combination Herreshoff & Whitehall, designed to plane when towing and track straight.  One person could ship onboard while underway. I then made a production mould and made fiberglass dinghies. The sailing version sported a windsurfer rig with a centerboard.”


“In the early 70’s Foxy’s was a rendezvous spot consisting of cruising people and crude charter boats. Sunday mornings were a time for recovery and sea stories full of boasting and challenging. In those days, the wooden boat fleet outnumbered those of fiberglass.  On one of those foggy Sunday mornings Foxy came up with the idea of hosting a wooden boat regatta while the skippers of Spartan, a New York 50, Escapade, Terramania and other large crude yachts challenged each other over Bloody Marys. This was the first impromptu WBR.  The first official race was in 1973.  Auggie and I started an on going rivalry between the two boats that still exists today.”


One of the facets that makes Foxy’s WBR so popular are the great T-shirts that everyone has to take home.  When asked about that Les replied, “I have always designed the T-shirts, as well as the posters, for the Wooden Boat Regatta.  I personally hand blocked the first 100 T-shirts with boats racing as the design. Someday I would like to do a retrospective poster of all the designs I have made.  If anyone reading this article has a design from 1973 to 86 please forward to me at Foxy’s.  Unfortunately, I have lost a lot of art in the various hurricanes that have hit these islands.  Naturally, they were all of my favorites at the time. This year’s design is a surprise as it is always a revelation when I am able to pluck out another image!!”


In 1998, Julian Davies of Tiger Maru and Les started a 23 ft. native sloop for Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta that was to compete with the islands sloops from Anguilla as well as a day sailor out of Jost Van Dyke, the home of Foxy’s.  It wasn’t ready for that regatta but it is hoped that it will be ready for next year’s.  This boat is being built in a traditional method using local hardwoods from the bush and is currently ready to plank – The two are just waiting for another financial injection of cash. Foxy’s WBR is the event of the season and Les will be there, as always, to enjoy the competition, friendship and camaraderie of ancient mariners.  He tells me, “Foxy’s WBR is the premier sailing event for wooden boats in this part of the hemisphere and the 2002 regatta promises to be an impressive show of beautiful boats and people sharing their mutual love of sailing.”  


Anderson has a unique style in his art, which is sold internationally.  “My love of sailing is as great a feeling as my painting gives to me. I love the thrill of riding down the crest of a following sea as much as the perfect brushstroke of color on my canvases. I have shown my work throughout the islands, United States and Europe and have won numerous awards. The most recent show I participated in was the 14th Annual Caribbean Colours held at the Grand Hotel in St. Thomas opening on April 20th.  It was organized by the St. Thomas/St. John Arts Council, which is the run on pure volunteer efforts.”


“My art is self taught and since arriving in the Caribbean at the age of 25, I have developed my style and genre through life experiences as a sailor - mostly working in watercolors while I lived aboard Penelope.  I now work in oils and multiple mediums and my studio is in our home on East End, St. John. Penelope is moored close by in Round Bay and becomes my scaled down floating studio when my wife Mary and I go sailing. Impasto painting is what first drew me to oils and my work is now taking on a three dimensional quality. Many key elements of the painting are sculpted in low relief and applied to the canvas creating a painted bas-relief.  After visiting the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo, where I touched my great uncle Rolf Lunde’s bronze sculpture, I knew that my work would eventually evolve into free standing sculpture.  Vigiland Park, with its incredible sculptures depicting the cycles of life from birth to death, was inspiring beyond words, even in the pouring rain. Penelope is my largest sculpture to date.”


Anderson sells his art mainly through the Bajo el Sol Gallery in Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay, St. John, where he is in a partnership with the abstract expressionist artist Aimee Trayser. They are currently celebrating 10 years, this coming October, as the oldest and most established gallery on St. John.  Anderson’s work in this gallery is mostly historical in the West Indian genre. Although he paints and sculpts all subjects, he is really a figure painter.  “I consider myself a figurative painter. My greatest passion is that of painting the human figure. The portrait at Foxy’s Bar, is derived from the old sailors adage ‘At sea all is She’ and is a celebration of sea faring women.”  Anderson does commission work and is currently completing a large painting/sculpture for Charles Riviere’s collection at Villa Claudia on St. John. This will be Riviere’s 14th painting and he is Anderson’s most serious collector.  Gia Gallery in St. Croix also represents Anderson.  


When I asked Les what the future held he smiled in his handsome way and explained that, “Spending more time with my beautiful children and grandchildren comes first.  Then Mary and I would like to do some extended cruising to regions in the southern Caribbean, especially Barbados and Trinidad where we will gather new motifs for future work. To help, in promoting art throughout the Virgin Islands, we represent many other fine St. John artists and host openings the first Friday of each month, showcasing their new works. For St. John Carnival in June, Bajo El Sol will host an “Edible Art Show” in conjunction with the opening the day of Food Fair. Anyone interested in joining us is invited to join call for details.


Les can be contacted through his gallery at 866/ 593-7070 (toll free) and 340/693-7070 (locally).  His Website can be viewed at www.bajoelsolgallery.com. Hours of operation are 10-6 Monday thru Sat. closed on Sundays.



footnote *

“That same year I was in Martha’s Vineyard visiting naval architect Dave Dana.  I had taken a wooden model of Penelope with me.   I met a young lady named Bonnie and told her of my dream of building a schooner. She said Yea! Yea! Yea!  Seven years later, while looking for crew to go to St. Barths, I met her again with her model girlfriend. They signed on as experienced sailors and we headed south in company with my sister ship, Auggie’s Sea Legs. The weather turned from bad to worse and we found ourselves between square waves in the Anegada Passage. With strong headwinds we tacked back and forth gaining little ground while my crew lay tits up down bellow greener than the jealousy between them.


Bonnie brought many pounds of Bulgher Wheat, which had escaped into the bilge. I looked down below one night and saw the cabin sole lifting up – it was just like an old grain ship coming into harbor from Australia. The evening of the 3rd night brought the lights of Saba - again - and I found

my remaining “watch-stander” wrapped up in the mainsheet, both terrified and white knuckled holding the tiller. I heard many foxhole prayers and promises.  Both girls promised that they would varnish the entire boat if we pulled through this and made it to St. Barths safely. Well, we made the passage in 5 days and arrived in St. Barths just an hour before the first race. We won our class

but the victory paled when I saw them varnishing, the next day, up the mast  of Euphoria, Jimmy Buffet’s boat. C’est la vie.