For those who already know the work of Lewes’ Steve Rogers, an introduction isn’t needed. For those who haven’t yet seen his paintings or boat models, this is a man with incredible talent. Rogers is a visual creator of saltwater portraits.
“I was born with a reasonable amount of talent, and I enjoy painting and drawing– and I was always encouraged to do it,” Rogers said.
Rogers, 66, grew up in a 200-year-old farmhouse in Chester County, Pa., not far from where well-known artists Andrew, N.C. and Jamie Wyeth lived and worked.
“I grew up on a farm. It was a great way to grow up. The area’s a drop-dead beautiful place. I have nice memories about those days,” he said.
Rogers is best known for his maritime-themed and landscape paintings. But no matter what the subject matter is his work contains details– sometimes obvious and at other times subtle.
“One of the criteria you must have as an artist is you have to care about the things you portray,” he said.
Viewed from a distance, some of his paintings approach photorealism, but they don’t cross the threshold. Rogers painting should also be viewed up-close. In a marshland scene he uses hundreds of brushstrokes, subtly blending color to put the viewer inside the landscape’s vastness.
Last fall, he participated in a plein air competition in northern Delaware and southern Pennsylvania, near where he grew up.
“I used to ride around on those roads when I was a teenager, and I didn’t appreciate how beautiful it is,” he said. Rogers said it’s an inspiring locale, especially for painters who like landscapes, as he does.
“Wow, what a beautiful part of the world,” he said about the drive on Route 82 through southern Chester County, Coatsville and into Lancaster.
Rogers says he’s always been an artist, drawing and painting throughout high school. He said he’s mostly self-taught and once, while in his teens, he took lessons from a local artist.
“She made me sit there and paint. The last thing I wanted to do on a nice summer day was spend two hours in a studio painting,” he said.
In college at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, he worked in the school’s museum and found it enjoyable. He earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and did only fieldwork in the profession for two summers.
After graduating from the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Franklin & Marshall, he was commissioned as a U.S. Air Force second lieutenant.
In 1967, during the War in Vietnam, Rogers said he voluntarily entered the service because he knew he wouldn’t qualify for deferment.
“I never saw the place,” he said about Vietnam. His stateside job was supervising a squadron of F-106 aircraft mechanics.
Rogers and wife Pat Staby, a fiber artist, moved to Lewes in 1989. The couple had been living in Milford where he worked for a lumber company.
“My background is in store planning, décor, merchandizing and stuff like that,” he said.
Rogers said the transition from a workaday job to artist was a leap because he couldn’t imagine making a living at it.
“I also wondered if I could do it everyday. Come down at eight every morning, sit down, start painting and do good work and still like it,” he said.
He kept doing it, “Waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he said, but it hasn’t.
“I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I do enjoy it. I also enjoy not doing it, doing other things, but I always enjoy sitting down, working,” Rogers said.
He said he considers himself a Brandywine School artist, and he enjoys impressionism with a preference for American painters.
“They’re a little more representational. Their colors are more natural,” he said.
Some of his recent paintings, Rogers said, are a mix of Brandywine School and American impressionism.
“I still do tight work with a lot of fine detail, but I’m really working at loosening up. That’s why I still do the plein air competitions.
“When you’re out in the field and there’s something buzzing around your head and the sun is hot and it’s humid and windy and you’re trying to hold on to your canvas, you’re forced to work really fast, compose it then and there and get it done,” he said.
Several years ago, when he was making ship models more than he was painting, someone who saw his work told him he should contact the owners of Art of the Sea Gallery in South Thomaston, Maine.
“They loved the ship models; that’s how I started with them. Later on, I was making fewer ship models, and I told them I’m gonna paint, and I’m gonna paint ships because that’s what I know,” he said.
The owners said they would handle his work, but he had to become a signature member of The American Society of Marine Artists.
He submitted a portfolio, joined the society and immediately became a signature member. “That was a really good thing because it’s a nationally recognized organization, and it specializes in marine art,” he said. “One of the people who visits the gallery in Maine is Jamie Wyeth. He owns four of my ship models,” he said.
A few years ago, when in Maine having dinner with friends, he said he had been complaining about the fact that although Jamie Wyeth owned four of his models, he’d never met him.
“My friend said, ‘I’ve got the secret number,” he said.
His friend called and spoke to Wyeth’s secretary, and she said she would see if he wanted to meet.
“She called back and said he’d love to see you,” Rogers said.
They took a small boat to the island Wyeth lives on and spent a half-hour with him. “It was very interesting. He’s about my age, and he grew up in Chadds Ford, which is also southern Chester County,” Rogers said.
Asked if Wyeth gave him any artistic advice, Rogers said, “I think we’re in two different universes, actually,” he said, laughing.
“For me, it was just thrill to talk to him, and I do like his work,” Rogers said.
Rogers in the company of Wyeth could be an indicator that their artistic universes are not so far apart. Rogers’ work can be found in Lewes at Peninsula Gallery on Savannah Road, in addition to the gallery in Maine.