Art in Embassies program selects Coast Guard artwork

In this work from the U.S. Coast Guard Art Program 2014 Collection, "Chukchi Reach," ID# 201415, scientists aboard a small boat from the Coast Guard Cutter Healy gather ice samples from the Chukchi Sea from a large floe that the cutter broke apart by ramming it. The Healy deploys each summer to the Arctic with scientists aboard to conduct research on the Arctic Ocean and its ecosystem. U.S. Coast Guard Art Program work by Robert Selby.

In this work from the U.S. Coast Guard Art Program 2014 Collection, “Chukchi Reach,” ID# 201415, scientists aboard a small boat from the Coast Guard Cutter Healy gather ice samples from the Chukchi Sea from a large floe that the cutter broke apart by ramming it. The Healy deploys each summer to the Arctic with scientists aboard to conduct research on the Arctic Ocean and its ecosystem. U.S. Coast Guard Art Program work by Robert Selby.

The Coast Guard Art Program, COGAP, uses fine art to educate diverse audiences about Coast Guard missions, operations and people. Regularly displayed at libraries, museums and special events, the paintings showcase what Coast Guard men and women do on a daily basis. And recently, a painting was selected for a more prestigious display: in the home of a U.S. ambassador.

Artist Robert Selby’s painting, “Chukchi Reach,” was selected for display by the U.S. State Department’s prestigious Art in Embassies program. The painting will be on display at the residence of Charles Adams, U.S. ambassador to Finland, where it will be used for public diplomacy programs. Like the U.S., Finland is also a nation with interests in the Arctic region. A quarter of that nation lies within the Arctic Circle.

The program plays an important role in U.S. public diplomacy through the visual arts and artist exchanges. The Museum of Modern Art in New York first envisioned this global visual arts program in 1953, and President John F. Kennedy formalized it at the State Department in 1963. Today, it involves 20,000 participants globally including artists, museums and galleries and encompasses more than 200 venues in 189 countries.

The painting selected by this program shows the Coast Guard assisting research scientists in the Arctic region. Both Polar Regions are of strategic interest to the United States as articulated by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft in his 2015 State of the Coast Guard Address. Issues of concern include climate change, managing natural resources, scientific research and providing access to ice covered regions. The annual State of the Coast Guard Address outlines the service’s top priorities and concerns.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the largest cutter in the service, is the country’s premiere high latitude research vessel. It is an icebreaker that provides presence and access throughout the Arctic for all of the Coast Guard’s statutory missions as well as scientific research. Annually in the summer it brings scientists to the Arctic.

Coast Guard artist Robert Selby accepts the 2014 George Gray Award for Artistic Excellence. Photo by Philippe Debeusscher.

Coast Guard artist Robert Selby accepts the 2014 George Gray Award for Artistic Excellence. Photo by Philippe Debeusscher.

Artist Robert Selby has long been interested in Coast Guard missions in the Arctic. In 2013 he deployed aboard the Healy. Selby’s painting captures scientists researching the area’s ecosystem.

As the artist explains,he was in a unique vantage point from which he viewed “the very moment that a scientist thrust himself across the gunwale and literally reached into the sea. It was a striking sight made even more remarkable by a second scientist who happened to be assisting with a pole.”

“I was beyond great ships and cranes; close enough to see humans cooperating with humans in the pursuit of knowledge,” he added. He returned to his studio a few weeks later “determined to capture that scene and the important work that it reflected.”

A year later, “Chukchi Reach” received COGAP’s George Gray Award for Artistic Excellence.

Upon learning that the painting had been selected by AIE, the artist said, “I was surprised and delighted because I feel that it validates my effort to leverage the power of fine art to highlight the work of the U.S. Coast Guard in the Arctic region.”

Selby has been working as an artist for nearly 40 years and taught illustration at the college level for 26 years. He has been a COGAP member since 2000. He chose the Coast Guard’s art program over other services’ programs because, as he explains, “An assignment I did as a newspaper illustrator involving the U.S. Life Saving Service instilled a deep and lasting appreciation for the work of the women and men of this extraordinary service.”

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