Boat Show’s featured artist paints ‘Prodigal Son’ | Community News

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Local artist Jef Sturm’s painting of the Prodigal Son, captained by Ronnie Campbell, is featured on the poster for the 28th annual Wooden Boat Show in Georgetown Oct. 21 and 22.

Sturm’s painting will be auctioned Oct. 20 at the annual Goat Island Yacht Club Regatta as part of the lead up to the Boat Show.

Sturm, a native of Ohio, has his work featured at Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island and the Seacoast Artists Guild in Myrtle Beach where he also teaches.

The 47-foot Prodigal Son was built in 1948 in Georgetown by Raymond Taylor as a shrimping boat. Campbell began working as a crew member on the boat when he was 12 and bought the boat in 1979.

After 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, Campbell converted the Prodigal Son to a tow boat and continues to operate it today. The boat is powered by a John Deere 350-horsepower engine.

Sturm depicted the white wooden boat on a sunny and placid part of Winyah Bay where dashes of color in the paint and wood are reflected from a fair weather sky. The artist used setting and light to evoke a sensible and humbly elegant personality for the vessel.

“Ronnie’s made a great contribution to this city,” Sturm said.

Sturm’s artistic journey began back in Akron, Ohio, with encouragement from his grandmother, Margaritte Orman, who was handy with crafts and played the piano. He attended a vocational high school where he took art for four periods every day, and Sturm was further encouraged by his commercial art instructor, Abby Nelson. She helped him build a portfolio, and the young artist was accepted at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

In Cleveland, Sturm had a mentorship with his sophomore design instructor, the late John Paul Miller.

“He was a very good teacher,” Sturm says. “Every year he took a student with him out West, and I traveled with him for about 6 to 8 weeks during the summer after my sophomore year. We did a lot of backpacking in the mountains in Wyoming and Montana. This was 1962, and we even got as far as Seattle for the World’s Fair which was that year, when they put up the Space Needle.”

After college, Sturm and a friend opened their own graphic design and advertising business. But, he said, “We weren’t really mature enough to be doing it.” That business closed, and the artist went home to Akron and got a job with a design firm he dreamed of working with when he was in high school: Smith, Scherr & McDermott. 

After four years at that job, Sturm spent a few more years as the graphics coordinator for the City of Akron. Then came another stint with a graphic design business, followed by two years teaching graphic design at the same vocational high school he attended in the 1950s. In 1976 he again opened his own business, Jef Sturm Graphic Design, which he operated for two decades and experienced many technological advances that made his work much easier.

Before computers became common design tools, Sturm had to sit at the board and draw all his designs on pads with markers and send them to the typesetter, who put together proofs and sent them back to the designer. Then the proofs were placed on a board, and the board was put in front of a camera, and the camera took a negative.

“It was an unbelievable process,” Sturm said. “Then I got on the computer… and it was completely like going to heaven.”

Although Sturm worked in graphic design, he always continued painting on canvas. He also went on annual golf trips to the Myrtle Beach area with his buddies, and when he and his wife decided to retire in 1996, they moved to Pawleys Island. A new retirement career in painting and teaching was launched.

Sturm has countless spots in the Lowcountry he visits for landscape inspiration, and he’s always looking for light. He likes it when the light and sky are a little moody with intermittent sun, or when the sun is low and long shadows are cast.

“I think that art is probably one of the more lovely things to do in life, to hang your hat on. It’s a great way to make a living and a great way to live,” Sturm said.

Posters can be purchased at the Maritime Museum on Front Street. Sturm’s work will also be featured on posters and T-shirts, which will be available for purchase at the Wooden Boat Show scheduled for Oct. 21-22 at the Georgetown waterfront.

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