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Monday, February 17, 2020

Ron Druett, maritime artist, 1934-2020

Born in Kingston-on-Thames on December 30, 1934, Ron was just old enough when World War II commenced to remember his father marching off to India and Burma -- and the London Blitz.  His mother refused to leave home, and Ron and his younger brother, David, refused to leave her.  And so he had memories to share -- of learning to read in bomb shelters, collecting shrapnel, running home to make sure the house was still there after a daylight raid.  Nerve-wracking at the time, it made many stories to enthrall children later on.

Ron excelled at Surbiton County Secondary School, coming top of the class with an early gift for art.  The headmaster and art teacher were desperate for him to go to art school, but no, his father thought it was no way to make a living.  And so Ron was apprenticed at the South Eastern Electricity Board.  His two years of National Service in the Royal Air Force added to this experience, as Ron serviced aircraft, including Vampires.

And still he painted.  Perhaps it was his seaman-brother's descriptions of the landscapes and seascapes of New Zealand that inspired him to migrate there, in 1962.  There, he worked in power stations, in the midst of spectacular scenery. It was inevitable, perhaps, that when he returned to England a couple of years later, it was just to say goodbye to his folks, as he had decided to make New Zealand his home.  And it was at sea, on a ship, very appropriately, that I met him, and just a few weeks after getting back home, we were married.

And we lived in the Bay of Plenty -- in the midst of spectacular scenery -- and still he painted.  Two sons were born, and I vividly remember one of the toddlers "having a go" at an unfinished work, adding a few large sprawls of color.  Moving to Rotorua and then Hamilton, Ron continued his career in New Zealand electricity, but at the same time was exhibiting in the prestigious Kelliher Art Awards.

And then I started writing books -- books that needed illustration.  One was Petticoat Whalers, and I remember the publisher's delight when Ron produced not just the spectacular cover, but inside art as well.

This book had been the outcome of a Fulbright-funded research trip to the great maritime museums of the United States.  Inspired and excited by the experience and the satisfaction of seeing his art in print, Ron retired from the electricity business, and devoted himself to art, full-time.  This was soon rewarded by a Residency at the William Steeple Davis house and studio, in Orient, Long Island, New York.  In the end, we spent nearly three years there.  Ron painted and exhibited, while I wrote, dealt with publishers, and was employed by the Three Village Historical Society and the Long Island Whaling Museum as a consultant.  We traveled widely, and gave talks and attended exhibitions.  Ron was accepted as an Artist Member of the American Society of Maritime Artists, a significant honor.  And again, he was asked by publishers to illustrate my books.

Returning to New Zealand in 1996, we soon made the decision to move to Wellington, because of the research facilities there.  It was a time for Ron to demonstrate his talent for working with wood -- not only did he create furniture, but he built steps, a deck, and a veranda.  Painting came first, however, his work bought by collectors all over the world.  And there were many trips back to the United States, and exhibitions there to attend -- at the Mystic Maritime Museum gallery, in particular.  Martha's Vineyard, where I consulted at the historical society, and we stayed with dear friends, was a favorite.

In 2009 something unexpected happened.  We were asked by P&O Australia to be host lecturers.  It was the start of an amazing four years of sailing the South Pacific and South East Asia, talking to hosts of lovely people, sharing our knowledge, and staging power point shows of Ron's work.  When it came to an end, we still kept cruising -- Cunard, Paul Gauguin.  We were addicted.

Then, in 2014, there was a dreadful interruption.  Ron developed a rare condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  An aberration of the nervous system triggered by an ordinary virus, it leads to shocking weakness.  But ten days of intensive care in Wellington Public Hospital followed by three weeks of physiotherapy did the trick, and we were able to take up our travels again, including the International Book Fair at Taipei, a city and occasion we both adored.

Our last cruise was a big one, a World Cruise on the Sea Princess.  The ship, crew, and itinerary were all wonderful -- but towards the end of it, Ron developed a weakness again.  It started with his right hand -- his painting hand, the one part of his body most precious to him -- which clenched into a paralyzed fist.  At home, there were many tests as the weakness became increasingly worse.  Then the devastating diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease -- what the Americans call ALS -- was made.  It proceeded unusually quickly, and on 17 February 2020, not quite four months from the diagnosis, Ron succumbed to that dreadful condition. 

Brave to the end, he will always be remembered as a devoted husband, a fond and conscientious father and grandfather, and a man with many friends, loved for his unfailing courtesy, and his whimsical sense of humor.


Unknown said...

So sorry to hear Ron passed away but under the circumstances it was best. Although we knew Ron briefly enjoyed his company and sense of humour...may he RIP
Mirella and Ray Canny

Unknown said...

That is a lovely tribute Joan. Kathryn

alaric said...

A worthy tribute; we will never forget that special day in Dover, or the gentle man who helped make it so. said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I have been widowed twice, the first time in 2002 (after 22 years of marriage) and the second time in 2015 (after 12 years). It is never easy, regardless of foreknowledge for the inevitable.
While this may seem inappropriate at this time, I wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying your book Island of the Lost.

Diplomatist said...

Joan, I am so sorry to read this and of the loss you and your family have had. My thoughts are with you: may he rest in peace. I'm going to pull out a couple of your books to re-read and pay particular attention to Ron's illustrations.

World of the Written Word said...

Thank you, thank you. He was a lovely man, a true gentleman, so talented, and I will miss him greatly.

V.E. Ulett said...

Joan, I'm so very sorry for your loss. The tribute you wrote is wonderful, and made me feel as though I knew Ron. I didn't realize that we have in common careers in electric power - and important secondary ones in art. Ron's beautiful paintings and illustrations will ensure that he will live on, and I know that equally he will live on in your heart and memories. With deepest sympathy, Eva.

Linda Collison said...

A life well lived; What a fitting tribute, thank you for the shared history, Joan. Our deepest sympathies- Linda and Bob

Shayne Parkinson said...

Oh, Joan, I'm so very sorry to hear your loss. What a fine tribute to a very special man.

It's clear that the two of you greatly supported and encouraged each other in developing and exercising your varied talents.

Unknown said...

Hi Joan, I hope you are well.

I have taken a recent interest in Maritime literature after reading 'Erebus' by Michael Palin. This, in turn, led me to your published works.

Your surname intrigued me, especially with the NZ connection. After further delving on the web, I came across your blogspot. I grew up in Kent Way, Surbiton during the 60's. Our very good friends and neighbours were May and Jack Druett. They were great companions of my mum & dad. I met Ron a few times during this period when he was visiting the UK and, although I was quite young, I can distinctly remember him & his brother David.

I was quite touched to read your tribute to Ron. At the same time, disappointed that I hadn't discovered your work earlier, otherwise I would have been in touch a while back.

I have purchased your book 'Island of the Lost' and very much look forward to reading it.

In have very fond memories of the Druett's and will certainly think of them whilst reading it.

It certainly is a small world!

Much love to you and your family.

Kindest Regards, Steve Chapman

World of the Written Word said...

Steve, I have only just found your comment, and found it so touching. They have all passed on, now -- May and Jack, of course, and Dave as well as Ron. Jack died in his 70s, well-timed as he was due to have his feet amputated, as the rheumatism had turned septic, and the antibiotics didn't work. May was 97, I think. While we were living on Long Island, Dave helped her get into a resthome near to him in Auckland. He visited her every day, as it was his walk with the dog. We only saw her once after we got back. She had gone blind, which was awful. She said she lived too long, which was true. She loved my books, especially "A Promise of Gold," which she read several times. I still miss her.

I do hope you enjoyed "Island of the Lost" and thank you again for your post.