William Gilkerson: Maritime Art and History

William Gilkerson self-portrait as ‘Cap’n Bill’

This collection consists primarily of the work of maritime artist, author and historian William Gilkerson (1936 – ). It includes 60 of his original paintings and drawings, 56 prints, eight artist’s study books of sketches, research notes, manuscripts, published books and articles, vessel logbooks, correspondence, and maritime-related memorabilia. The collection provides a comprehensive retrospective of Gilkerson’s artistic and literary career, as well as records and artifacts of marine archaeology expeditions. 

William Gilkerson poster, Ultimate Voyage

Poster for novel Ultimate Voyage

Ink and watercolor map of the oceans

Ink and watercolor map of the oceans

Early sketch

Early sketch

Bark Jireh Swift pursued by Confederate raider Shenandoah

Bark Jireh Swift pursued by
Confederate raider Shenandoah

Gilkerson in studio

William Gilkerson in studio

William Gilkerson (b. 1936) is a noted American and Canadian maritime painter, scrimshander, nautical historian, and writer of both fiction and non-fiction. A lifelong sailor and adventurer, he has traveled widely and had careers as a journalist and folk musician as well as an artist and maritime historian. Based at various times in the Midwest, California, and Massachusetts, he has lived and worked since 1987 overlooking the Atlantic in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, with his wife Kerstin.

Among the items in the NCT Archive collection:

  • A set of pen-and-watercolor maps of the seas of the world, in antique style but to accurate scale.
  • Watercolor paintings of historic scenes and vessels, including Henry Morgan’s return to Port Royal after the sack of Panama and The Seventy-four Gun Ship.
  • Watercolor paintings of Gilkerson’s own vessels, including the antique cutter Elly
  • Brush-and-ink drawings for the novel Pirate’s Passage
  • Maritime art prints, including the series  American Whalers in the Western Arctic and A Whaling Triptych
  • Posters designed by Gilkerson for maritime museums
  • Seven artist’s study books of sketches for paintings and book illustrations; replicas of two additional study books
  • Signed first-edition books authored and/or illustrated by Gilkerson, including Boarders Away I and II, The Scrimshander, The Ships of John Paul Jones, An Arctic Whaling Sketchbook, American Whalers in the Western Arctic, Pirate’s Passage, Ultimate Voyage, From Rocks to Rockets, and 1000 Years of Pirates.
  • Various proposals, edited drafts, and printer’s proofs of books by Gilkerson
  • Research notes and correspondence related to the ships of John Paul Jones, documentation of cannon retrieved from the War of 1812 British warship HMS Nimrod, and other projects and commissions
  • Magazine and newspaper articles on maritime subjects
  • Photographs and photograph albums, including Gilkerson in studio and costumed models posed for sketching
  • Artist’s equipment and studio furnishings
  • Bagpipes in case with scrimshaw fittings carved by Gilkerson
  • Antique harquebus and cutlass
  • Ship model based on the ship envisioned in his novel Ultimate Voyage