When I lived in Oklahoma City, the next town over was Yukon, birthplace of Garth Brooks.  Yukon is pretty far from Maine, but it did have two reminders of home.

The first was Keith Lardie, my high school classmate and valedictorian, who moved there with his job and gave me another Yankee to hang out with.  The second was the big “Land Run” mural inside the Yukon post office, which was painted by Dahlov Ipcar, the famous artist from Georgetown, Maine.

Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at [email protected].

I don’t know if the U.S. Postal Service is still commissioning artists, but the post office in Bath has a fantastic mural painted by local artist Jim Stilphen. The 25-foot image shows the Kennebec River and Bath’s shoreline circa 1925, with sailing ships, old buildings, and the ferry Fernando Gorges, which shuffled people across to Woolwich in the days before the Carlton Bridge.

In my youth this mural hung proudly over the main counter where people did their business. Today the counter has been moved to the other end of the building, and the mural is now above a row of P.O. boxes, hidden in the back. It’s a real shame.

Recently a retired Bath Iron Works employee gave me several boxes of memorabilia that he had collected during 30 years at the shipyard. There were many ship posters, drawings, and launch brochures, but one thing he didn’t give me, unfortunately, was a piece of original Jim Stilphen art. On the positive side, this artwork went to Stilphen’s daughter, Elizabeth, who lives in Brunswick. I did find a BIW newsletter from the 1970s with a two-page article about Stilphen, which I posted on Facebook.

Elizabeth contacted me and asked me for the newsletter, which she had never seen. I delivered it to her, and she showed me many of her father’s giant-sized paintings. There was a fantastic image of a native American standing in front of a full moon, which she had rescued from her father’s trash pile. There were business signs he had painted, and a sailing ship painting that had once hung on his barn. But many were paintings of BIW’s early 19th-century ships. Clearly, this fellow loved history.

Indeed, the first time I became aware of Jim Stilphen was from the documentary film “In Their Eyes,” which talks about Bath in the 1890s.  He was one of the people interviewed, and he knew a lot about the good old days.  His look, demeanor, and accent pegged him as a true Mainer, and his love of history came out in his many paintings of Bath’s shipbuilding past. A dozen years after his death, Stilphen is still fondly remembered by many people in the area.

Jim Stilphen Courtesy Elizabeth Stilphen

Stilphen was one of 60 people who entered the Portland School of Fine and Applied Arts in 1969. The school, which was founded by Winslow Homer, was known as a tough place. Of the original students, Stilphen was one of only nine who graduated.

His first contract was for a mural of Portland Harbor, which has disappeared over the years. Then came his first stint with BIW, which soon ended in a layoff.  Stilphen worked as a draftsman with an engineering firm, until quitting to spend a year working on the Bath post office mural. Then he returned to BIW and bounced around from department to department, serving as a shipfitter, mold loftsman, and draftsman. During this time he was assigned side jobs to produce artworks for the company.  Eventually, BIW created a graphics department, and Stilphen moved into his most famous role as the head artist.

His art studio was an entire house owned by BIW, and Stilphen had assistants to help him with assignments. If you want to see good examples of the work he produced, visit the tunnel in downtown Bath, which has several large Stilphen historical paintings hanging on the walls. It must have been a real dream job.

Years after Stilphen’s death, I naively thought that I could campaign to get my brother Stilphen’s old job as head artist.  My brother is a draftsman at BIW, and almost as good a mural painter and artist as Stilphen. But it turns out the graphics department was disbanded by the company before Stilphen’s death, and he was forced to go back to work as a shipfitter.

If anybody has memories, stories, or artwork relating to Stilphen, please get in touch with me. His daughter is very interested in anything having to do with her father.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.