Still going strong into his 90s

Published on March 9th, 2020

While there are a number of outstanding photographers that specialize in sailing, the list of artists is pretty short, with California’s Jim DeWitt among the most notable. Here he is profiled by The Richmond Standard:

Ninety-year-old Richmond resident Jim DeWitt’s path to becoming an internationally renowned artist was as shifting and unpredictable as the waves the sailing enthusiast once raced upon.

Born during the Depression, DeWitt struggled with dyslexia at a time when nobody really knew what it was. “They thought I was lazy or stupid,” said DeWitt. “I hated school because I couldn’t read…The kids would laugh if I had to get up in front of the class, and so, school was a nightmare.”

An unexpected escape arrived courtesy of his father, who was building something extraordinary in their backyard. It would leave an indelible mark on the younger DeWitt that resonated well into his future.

“My father built a boat he designed in the backyard when I was a little boy and it was a 19’ sloop,” recalled DeWitt, who eventually sailed it in the Oakland Estuary. “So that sparked my interest in sailing.”

Today, DeWitt’s paintings—often depicting sailboat races—are collected worldwide. In 2012, he was named artist-in-residence at the Golden Gate Yacht Club, host of the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco.

DeWitt’s interest in sailing picked up wind during his younger years, when he got a job as a lifeguard at Lake Temescal. He earned enough money to buy the wood to make his own little 8’ dinghy called an El Touro.

“So I built my own boat and my father supervised. He was a perfectionist, so it was gorgeous,” he said.

DeWitt brought his sailboat down to Lake Merritt and quickly started racing it against the other kids. He was a fast learner; by the end of the first season, he had tied for champion. DeWitt credits these early experiences as igniting his lifelong passion for sailing.

Meanwhile, another lifelong passion was taking flight for DeWitt. This time, it was thanks to an art class taught by a physical education teacher.

“In high school they had an art class that was taught by a PE teacher and he gave me an A,” said DeWitt, who had struggled educationally due to his dyslexia. “He thought I was just the greatest thing since sliced bread.” This encouragement led to DeWitt’s mother sending him to art school, where he learned the PE teacher had been wrong about a few things. Full report.

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