Nancy Zydler: High Latitudes, Fine Art

By Elaine Lembo

They explore the world by boat, and she explores her artistic creativity, at their own pace.

Iceberg painting by Nancy Zydler

Fifty icebergs in four years. That's the number Nancy Zydler projected she could capture in oil paintings as she and her husband, Tom, cruised the high latitudes aboard Frances B, their Mason 44, from 2012 to 2016. "My paintings immortalize the fleeting grandeur of icebergs in transition from hard sculptural ice into water," she says.

Unlike still photography, which freezes the fine details of a moment in time, working with oils allows the artist to capture the essence of a scene, the contrast between light and shadow, the mood of the sunlight — the feel of the moment. The fact that on that particular voyage, she met and then exceeded her expectations and personal best — painting 63 bergs in the striking series — is a minor point in an impressive tale of extreme cruising exploration and a unique way of memorializing it, at anchor and while underway.

Nancy Zydler paintingNancy Zydler sketches, then paints to immortalize the fleeting grandeur of icebergs. (Photo: Tom Zydler)

"I don't know if I can stop," she says. "It works with sailing so well. It sounds like a royal pain. I put my desktop easel on the bow, and we wind up with wet paintings all over the saloon. But we don't care."

To those whose imagination draws them to bluewater voyaging and the liveaboard lifestyle, BoatUS members Tom and Nancy Zydler are enduring stars on the scene. Since the 1970s, their global adventures, whether in small sailboats or as crew on expedition-style yachts, are well chronicled in articles (written and photographed by Tom) and photography in magazines, as well as in two highly esteemed cruising guides (one on Panama, another on cruising the Georgia coast).

This cruising couple is well-rounded: Both licensed captains, Nancy grew up sailing in Savannah, Georgia, then studied art at the University of Georgia; while Polish-born Tom is a graduate of the Szkola Morska maritime academy in Poland with a master's degree in English literature. The Zydlers exercise their seamanship skills while satisfying their creative hunger by retracing the routes of artists they admire, heading out from South Carolina in May and returning stateside in fall. Cold-water destinations like Labrador and Greenland drew 19th century painters Frederic Edwin Church and William Bradford, as well as the early 20th century painter, sailor, and author Rockwell Kent.

"It took us three tries to get to Karrat Island, 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle on Greenland's west coast," Nancy says. "Kent painted in this area for two years and wrote of the unsurpassed beauty of Karrat. In summer 2016 Tom and I got there. We drifted in because there was brash ice. I painted while we were drifting. We'd turned the engine off, there were icebergs everywhere, making all these cracking and booming sounds. It was like being in a wonderland."

There's no end in sight to Zydler's personal take on plein air painting: Upcoming voyages she and Tom embark on will allow her to work on a seabird series and one of the barrier islands off the U.S. southeast coast. She's dedicated to making a statement beyond creativity and art, part of which can be found at Zydler Fine Art.

"While the ephemeral properties and myriad colors present so many painting challenges, I also hope to heighten awareness. Ice is melting at extraordinary rates, and this melting just feeds more melting. These creations from the earth's past may forever vanish as our climate changes." 

— Published: February/March 2018

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