When people ask Loretta Krupinski of South Thomaston what she does for a living, she likes to have a little fun with it.

“I say, ‘Well, I paint dead people.’ “

Krupinski is a maritime artist who captures on canvas the way life used to be on Maine’s waterfronts. Working with old photographs, books and other documents, she re-creates waterfront scenes ranging from a rogue wave breaking on the Cora Cressy to busy fishermen aboard a mackerel seiner in Vinalhaven.

Her paintings have just been published in a new book, “Looking Astern: An Artist’s View of Maine’s Historic Working Waterfronts” (Down East Books, $29.95).

In “Looking Astern,” Krupinski does more than just share nice pictures of old ships. She also tells fun stories that bring Maine maritime history to life.

There’s the story of Mary Brown, who at the age of 16 navigated a ship around Cape Horn when her husband, the ship’s captain, fell desperately ill. And there’s the story of the haunted Seguin Light, where the keeper was driven insane by his wife’s piano playing.

Krupinski began her career illustrating feature articles for Newsday. She then moved into writing and illustrating children’s books. Her love of maritime art comes from growing up on the water in Long Island, N.Y., and then living in Old Lyme, Conn., and vacationing in Maine for more than two decades.

Ten years ago, Krupinksi and her husband, Bill Bailey, moved to their home on a saltwater cove off the St. George River. The author says it was always on her “bucket list” to live in Maine year-round.

 

Q: You used to be an illustrator and graphic designer. How did you get into maritime art?

A: I’ve always done the two jointly, because painting and doing illustrations are two different venues. I thought at some point they would come together in my brain, but they haven’t.

I illustrated 27 children’s books. I think I’ve written 10 of those, too, as well as illustrating them, and it has never come together. I don’t paint like I do children’s books, and my children’s books don’t look like my paintings, except both are very detailed. And the illustrations are done in gouache, which is a watercolor, and I can’t even think of doing a big painting in watercolor, because it terrifies me. You can’t cover up your mistakes, and you can do that with gouache to a certain extent.

I’m a studio painter, which means I don’t sit outside and paint. I work from my own photographs. I bring it back to the studio, and it takes me pretty much a month to finish a painting. I work at it every day. I consider it as a business. So I’m not nice to myself. I rarely give myself the afternoon or the day off.

And I really love what I’m doing, especially going through these old photographs. You never know what you’re going to find. Some of them are extremely striking.

I was getting bored and restless with painting contemporary maritime landscapes. And when I started looking through these old photos, the subject matter was so exciting, because all these subjects and people were dead. But these dead people turn out to be peoples’ grandfathers. And the nice thing about my paintings is someone will come up to me and say, “My grandfather was the superintendent at the lifesaving station in Whitehead Island, and I used to go there as a boy, and you paint it exactly as I recall.”

 

Q: Do you sometimes copy photos and paintings, or do you always take something from each one and create something entirely original?

A: It’s not (original). I would like to say it is because, as an artist, it’s a wonderful thing to do. So I do but I don’t, let’s put it that way. I do because I look at these photos, and the thing that I really like is some photographer photographed this image 100 years ago, and that’s the way it was. Why would I want to come along and turn something that was real into something that’s my impression? I want it to be the way it was — no interpretation except for the color and the time of day.

 

Q: So all the people in the photographs are real people?

A: Yeah, they are. I’m telling you, I get people who say, “That’s my grandfather.” I get chills when that happens. I really do. I’m a very humble person. I’ve never been good about tooting my own horn, but now that I’m doing Maine history I’m totally shameless, because it’s so awesome and it’s so amazing and this stuff isn’t there anymore. It’s like I’m painting dinosaurs or extinct birds.

 

Q: Do you ever go to the modern-day site to see what it looks like now?

A: Oh, all the time. It’s really sad for me to see that. In Camden, the municipal parking lot once held an anchor factory and an icehouse. Schooners would come from all over because there were other industries in the town that catered to schooners, and all the boat paraphernalia that went on the schooners before they left, before they were outfitted and ready to take off. And now it’s a parking lot.

And a building in Boothbay, it’s in the book. Gilmore is the name of the little schooner. She’s pulled up alongside a general store at a pier. It has writing. It says that the guy sells coal and dry goods and a couple of other things, painted right on the side of the store, and it’s a chowderhouse now in Boothbay. It’s still there; it still has the cupola on the top. And next to it is a parking lot. (Laughs.)

 

Q: Where do you find the old photographs?

A: (I go) to the historical society and the Penobscot Marine Museum and the Maine Maritime Museum. And that’s about it. I’ve had a good selection of old maritime history books because of library sales. They have a sale once a year, and that’s the first table I run to. I have quite an extensive maritime history collection that I’ve built up.

 

Q: Who’s your audience? Mariners, artists, historians?

A: No, no. This whole book was conceived to make the history of our coastline in a book that would be interesting, reader-friendly, for anyone who just moved to Maine or people who have been here for generations and maybe heard a few stories here and there but still don’t really have a handle on everything that went on.

 

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Before, I had to do 40 pretty different paintings because of the subject matter in the book. I mean, there’s no way I’d ever want to paint another rock quarry. And I’m not fond of painting tugboats. I don’t like painting steamboats either. It’s like painting houses. All the little windows, you know, and it’s like Engineering 101. You have to be so precise. It’s tedious.

But now I can paint whatever I want to, as long as it’s historical. Right now I’ve been painting a lot of history around the islands here and in midcoast Maine, and I want to do Portland next. I want to do a city environment — historical Portland waterfront paintings.

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]