Local artist’s great-grandfather saw Titanic set sailWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Local artist Ralph Henry has spent years chronicling the maiden and final voyage of the most famous ship in history. Working in colored pencil, Henry has drawn more than a dozen portraits of Titanic — depicted everywhere from the docks at Southampton, England, to its final resting place at the bottom of the sea.
His works have been displayed in various locations around the area since 2006, most notably in a regular exhibit at the Lucas County Fair. But as the great ship’s voyage came to a sudden end, so too will Henry’s work in tribute to it.
“I’ve drawn quite a few of them, and this will be the last one,” Henry said. He noted that this year’s portrait will be given away as part of the festivities at the Lucas County Fair. “I’m actually titling it, ‘Steal the Titanic.’
“Lucas County, I will say, since ’08 has been the best and most accommodating, as far as my artwork goes.
“They have really graciously enjoyed the Titanic and stuff. And this year, when I actually informed the board that this would be my last year, they were kind of disappointed. I went, ‘Look, since you guys have had it, this’ll be the fourth year of you running it, it’s the anniversary — let’s let it go after this.’”
Although Henry’s interest in art goes back to his childhood, his passion for all things Titanic goes much deeper — you could even say it is in his blood. His great-grandfather, a shipbuilder from Yugoslavia, was actually present the day Titanic sailed.
“I had to write a report in the fifth grade, and I was sitting at my grandma’s desk,” Henry, a native of Jackson, Mich., remembered. “And I was looking it up in a little encyclopedia I got from Kroger, and it had a little picture of Titanic, and just a teeny little article. And my grandfather just happened to walk by and said, ‘I can tell you a better story than that book will.’
“And he sat down and relayed how his father was there the day Titanic sailed. He met with the shipbuilders. My cousin has the documentation. … He met with [ship designer] Thomas Andrews the morning Titanic sailed to sign agreements with them to build their ships for Yugoslavia.”
His grandfather’s story helped inspire young Henry’s passion for things aquatic — in addition to Titanic, he has drawn portraits of numerous other noteworthy naval subjects (and disasters) such as the Bismarck and the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. In fact, it was the latter that reignited Henry’s passion for art after a break of nearly a decade.
“I stopped drawing in 1995, actually, for 10 years. In the ’90s, I was making a lot of artwork and giving them as gifts. I really didn’t do any ships, though, just odds and ends and everything,” Henry said.
“In 2005, a neighbor bet me that I could not draw the Edmund Fitzgerald. And I said, ‘Fine, I’ll do it.’ And when I gave him the picture, he’s like, ‘I can’t believe this.’ And I just started drawing them again.”
He soon returned to his childhood obsession, and began creating works dedicated to Titanic.
“I did three in 2006, and one of them won first place at the Wood County Fair. Unfortunately, I don’t have them — my ex does,” he said, noting that he was told via email the paintings had been burned.
In addition to the exhibits at local fairs, Henry’s work has been displayed in several local libraries, such as Way Public Library in Perrysburg and the Maumee branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, which is exhibiting his portraits of the Titanic this month in commemoration of the sinking’s 100th anniversary. He made clear that his muse is not limited to nautical subject matter, however.
“I draw just about anything — I’ve drawn John Lennon, the Last Supper, just basically anything I can draw — I can try it. I’m not gonna promise nothing, but I’m going to try it. I believe every artist has their own style, their own techniques, and everybody does it differently.”
“I look at it like, I don’t like to compete with other artists. Even though that’s what you do in the fair,” he said.
And through all his work on the great ship, whether it be his more realistic pieces or his more recent works which depict it in neon, augmented by a black light — Henry said he takes great care to capture the essence of the luxury liner, down to the last detail.
“It’s kind of difficult to explain, because when I do a piece, no matter what it is — I get a photograph of it, and I study it, very carefully. I believe in detail. I look very closely at the detail, and how I want it to look. Titanic has a lot of detail.
“It’s almost like a puzzle you’re putting together.” O