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Maritime Paintings at Statehouse Depict Lake Champlain Through Time

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Historian and maritime painter Ernest Haas stands beside “A Moment in Time” at the opening of an exhibit of 21 of his paintings at the Vermont Statehouse. This work depicts the explosion of an overheated cannon on a gunboat during the Battle of Valcour Island on Oct. 11, 1776. The exhibit traces the military, commercial, and recreational history of Lake Champlain from 1666 to about 2008. Photo by Tom McKone.
“My usual place for having a show is a rickety barn in Isle La Motte,” historian and maritime painter Ernest Haas said at the opening of “Celebrating Ernest Haas: Lake Champlain Through Time” at the Vermont Statehouse earlier in October. “This is the best place I’ve ever had a show.”

Ninety-six-year-old Haas’s modest and humorous comments at the art opening understate his success as a painter. His works are in the permanent collections of the Vermont Historical Society, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and the Isle La Motte Historical Society. The 21 paintings in this exhibit, which span almost 350 years of Lake Champlain’s military, commercial, and recreational history and are only a fraction of his work, are on loan from those institutions and from several private collectors.

Speaking of Haas’s work, Art Cohn, co-founder of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, said, “It’s been an extraordinary gift to me and my quest to make history accessible and an extraordinary gift to the people of Vermont and to travelers.”

Haas “makes these complex stories so much more approachable,” Cohn added.

More than 35 years ago, after Haas retired from teaching history in Connecticut and he and his late wife, Elizabeth Louise, moved to South Burlington, he volunteered to help build a wooden boat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. After Cohn learned that Haas was an artist and had taught American history, he asked him to create historically accurate works for the museum. Haas had served as an illustrator in the U.S. Navy, which he joined at the tail end of World War II, and had done artwork on the side while he taught American history. 

The Haas exhibit includes paintings of steamboats, schooners, sloops, and gunboats, as well as sinking and sunken boats. There is a view of the Lake Champlain Yacht Club in Burlington in 1925, and one of Basin Harbor Resort in 1925. The paintings depict events from the French fort on Isle La Motte in 1666 to visitors on the Lois McClure, a 1862-era replica of a canal schooner, about 2008. Cohn, who curated the show and frequently consulted with Haas on issues of historical accuracy, wrote explanatory labels to accompany each painting.

Located in the Statehouse cafeteria and the cardroom gallery, the show is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. As of this writing, the exhibit is scheduled to close on Oct. 29; however, David Schutz, the Vermont state curator, said that he is hoping to extend it into November.

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