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Maritime Paintings by ODU's Dick Whalen Pay Tribute to Spirit of Seagoing Profession

Scenes from the upcoming movie starring Tom Hanks, "Captain Phillips," about the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk-Alabama by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean - and the daring rescue of its captain by Navy SEALs aboard the USS Bainbridge - have been shot in Virginia Beach for the past two weeks.

And while the story of the high-seas rescue seems ideal for the big screen, it's also something that has been captured on canvas by Old Dominion's Dick Whalen, director of military relations. Whalen, a self-taught artist who has painted Navy ships and scenes since childhood, was contracted a few months after the event by Maersk Line, Ltd., to produce a commemorative painting of the rescue.

The work is the most recent addition to his "Seaman's Eye" collection of maritime paintings. The canvas depicts the Maersk-Alabama, the USS Bainbridge and the pirates' small vessel as they were positioned prior to the rescue. The five-day standoff, which saw the Alabama civilian crew fight to regain control of their ship and Capt. Richard Phillips put his life in the hands of the armed pirates to protect his shipmates, attracted worldwide attention.

A 30-year Navy veteran, Whalen developed his "seaman's eye" for marine authenticity on deployments throughout the world, which included service as the first commanding officer of the Aegis cruiser USS Mobile Bay. The 1963 Naval Academy graduate retired from the Navy in 1993 and joined ODU shortly thereafter.

Whalen, who talked to crewmembers from the Bainbridge about the event and took pictures of the pirates' vessel after it was brought to Norfolk as part of his research for the painting, said he likes the way his latest work turned out.

The original 24-by-36-inch canvas hangs in the Maersk headquarters in downtown Norfolk, and approximately 50 giclees (a fine art digital print on canvas) and 200 lithographs of the acrylic painting have been widely distributed. One giclee reproduction was recently accepted by the Smithsonian for its maritime art collection. Others in possession of prints include the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon, the Fifth Fleet commander in Bahrain, the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Florida, the Naval Academy Museum, the Maine Maritime Academy, several shipping lines - and Capt. Phillips himself.

A lithograph of the painting hangs in Whalen's office in Koch Hall as well as in the lobby of Innovation Research Park Building 1.

Whalen, who does his painting on weekends in a studio above the garage of his Virginia Beach home, said his latest work took about 150 hours in front of the canvas. He is well known for his detail and extensive research.

His paintings of Navy vessels have appeared as covers of numerous national magazines. His marine portraits are also maintained in public and private collections across the country, including those of a U.S. president, defense secretaries and chiefs of naval operations. Additionally, his works are displayed in the Ronald Reagan Museum and the City of Mobile Museum, which maintains his portrait of the USS Mobile Bay.

"What I enjoy about painting the most, in the case of my Navy ship paintings, is to get to know the people behind the ship," he said. "It gives me a chance to stay connected in a way with what I did for 30 years myself. That's a fun thing to do - to be able to hang around the edges of what I used to do.

"I like to paint for people so that they can have something from their Navy career on canvas for the rest of their lives, and for their families after that. I kind of like the thought of them sitting at home in the wintertime, sipping their brandy in the evening in front of a crackling fire with a painting of the ship they served on hanging about the fireplace, and enjoying the memories it brings back. For me, that's the best reward."

This article was posted on: June 28, 2012

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