Artist Don Maitz eagerly headed to the Seagrams office to present some artwork during a wintry December day in 1981. Opportunity doesn’t come often and this was his time to shine.
Three 8-inch by 10-inch oil paintings weren’t fully dried as he cleared snow from the car on an icy winter morning. He jumped in his car for a much anticipated meeting and eventually realized his prized works of art weren’t with him. He frantically looked for the paintings, remembering that he left them on the roof of the car. Quickly, he backtracked home to find his work face down in the snow.
Choosing your own fate is not for the faint of heart. If Don Maitz went with fate, he would spend his life working in his hometown factory. He knew as a child what he wanted to do — painting. At 13, he enrolled in the famous Artist’s Correspondence School and later attended the Paier School of Art in Hamden, Connecticut where he graduated with honors.
In 1981, there was nothing else to do but pick up the three paintings off the road and take them to the Seagrams meeting. During the meeting they chose parts from each sketch, the pose from one, the costume from another and the background from the third, making each one valuable to the project. That is how Captain Morgan, from the original spiced rum, was born. Maitz created an icon with Captain Morgan. He worked with Seagrams for 20 years, including partaking in six separate national advertising campaigns.
Maitz’s works of art have appeared in National Geographic Society publications, on the History Channel, “Dateline NBC” and “Wife Swap.” Art by Maitz is in the collection of the Delaware Art Museum and the New Britain Museum of American Art. His works are in numerous private collections. Maitz is a signature member of the American Society of Marine Artists.
I first came across Maitz’s work in the Key West Museum of Art and History. He had an exhibit on pirates. The work was outstanding; he created portraits of pirates I had not seen before. The detail was amazing; it was as if you were in their world. Later on, I was lucky enough to meet Maitz through treasure diver Carl Fismer. Maitz is a maestro at art. He has a sense of whimsy, an undeniable talent that seems like magic. Behind the magic is an artist who truly dedicated himself to his craft from a young age.
“I have always admired the work of Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth and Frank Schoonover, Golden Age illustrators who had famously rendered images of pirates,” he said. “Many artists and illustrators relocated out west to paint cowboys and Indians. At this time, romanticizing the continental Western expansion and the lawless maturity of the frontier was common. I decided to move from Connecticut to Florida and use the environment to portray another frontier, the Western expansion into the New World, another lawless time romanticized by adventure.”
Creating such realistic pirate portraits takes a lot of research and reference. Maitz said he takes an imaginative approach from research, snippets of legend and historical data about the adventuresome lives of the rogues who came to the New World.
“Pirates in this time did not wear modern polyester clothing and plastic hats — anything they wore became faded and mold-ridden,” he said. “Clothing handmade from blown-out sail cloth is not easy to come by. Finding period weapons, period ships, understanding how wind and water are affected by light all take concentration. Imagining a period weapon photographed at a museum being held by a sea rascal, who is boarding a ship in moonlight for example, is not easy.”
Maitz paints mostly in oils and watercolors. He likes to hide his signature in his paintings, as he puts it. “By incorporating my signature as part of the art, I feel I have immersed my name as well as my attention regarding the painting. I become a stowaway in my ship of creation,” he said.
Asked which of his paintings are his favorites, he paused: “There are so many, but my favorite is usually my most recent.”