Eight Bells: John Mecray

Published on November 9th, 2017

John Mecray a leading marine artist, co-founder of the IYRS School of Technology & Trades and a moving force behind yacht restoration efforts, died November 1 in Jamestown, RI. Mecray, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2015, was 80 years old.

He was raised in Cape May, New Jersey, and began his career as an illustrator of books in Philadelphia. Inspired by yacht delivery trips to the Virgin Islands in the 1970s, he gave up his illustration career to devote his time to marine painting. He, his wife, young son and daughter, moved to Newport in 1976.

Early on during that time, Mecray and a small group of friends met in his Thames Street studio on several occasions to discuss the possibility of starting a Museum of Yachting, which opened at Fort Adams State Park in 1979.

He convinced Tom Benson to take on the position of museum executive director in March 1980, which effectively brought the museum to life, Mecray wrote. That year, the museum held its first annual Classic Yacht Regatta, which is still a popular Labor Day weekend event for classic yachts.

Resigning his trustee position with the museum in 1992, Mecray joined with Elizabeth Meyer in founding the International Yacht Restoration School, which recently changed its name. Shortly after its founding in 1993 IYRS acquired an historic waterfront site vacated by the Newport Electric Company, and within nine months one of its two buildings was restored, and classes had begun. Since then, the accredited school has gained recognition and respect worldwide.

Interest in his paintings quickly took root (see website). “His paintings are the best contemporary marine paintings in the U.S.,” said Arthur Riordan, who with his wife represented Mecray as agents and sold his paintings for decades. “When we started selling his paintings, they were going for $4,000 to $5,000. In later years, we were selling the paintings for $50,000 to $150,000.”

Beginning in 1997, Mecray donated one of his limited edition prints to each of 45 Leukemia Cup regattas that have been held throughout the country as fundraisers. “He was a big donor to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society,” said his wife, Mary Gillette. “His brother died 17 years ago from lymphoma.

In 1980, an article about the 1885 schooner yacht Coronet in WoodenBoat magazine caught Mecray’s eye. After visiting the yacht in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he explored options to see if the 133-foot schooner that belonged to Arthur Curtis James could be saved and restored.

He painted three works of Coronet, then published a print, and used most of the proceeds to set up a museum fund to stabilize and help maintain the yacht. In 1995 the deteriorated vessel was accepted by the International Yacht Restoration School.

Coronet’s importance has been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and IYRS turned over full ownership and restoration of the yacht to Robert McNeil, a noted restorer of classic yachts. The work continues on the school’s campus.

“Everyone here at IYRS, from the board, through the staff and the students really had warm feelings for John,” said Terry Nathan, president of IYRS. “He came to the school often and engaged with everyone. He was so deeply immersed here and everybody loved him.”

Source: The Newport Daily News

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