It’s About an Old Man
Taking Up Rowing

It seemed like a good idea twelve thirteen years ago.
It seems like a better one now.

There are worse places to start than with Thomas Eakins. He’s best known for his paintings of rowers c. 1870. The link goes to his painting of Max Schmitt on the Schuylkill River (then, as now, laced by bridges in downtown Philadelphia). The featured painting includes a selfie: that’s Mr. Eakins in the shell in the middle distance.

“A boat is the hardest thing I know of to put into perspective. It is so much like a human figure; there is something alive about it.”

— Thomas Eakins, quoted by Brian Strauss, about whom more later

Eakins’s portraits of the Biglin brothers on the water are all over the net. After admiring those, have a look at the rest of his folio. The Metropolitan Museum’s collection consists mostly of his photography. Who knew? Try this catalog and be sure to check out “Man on a ladder with a dissected horse leg.” That one doesn’t get a lot of reprints.

As for this piece of performance art where you have landed just now, first comes building the boat. Despite a century’s difference in materials and building techniques, the boat taking shape in my basement looks a good deal like Max Schmitt’s. Soon will come learning how not to drown while learning how to row. Progress of all sorts is detailed (sometimes, often, usually) tediously under “The News.” And if you’re just here to look at pictures, that’s what galleries are for. There’ll be better — more enjoyable — photos to come after the boat hits the water.

Send an oldster a note.