Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: Robert Semler

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings

Robert Semler's award-winning Coast Guard artwork titled "Guardians of the Sea."

Robert Semler’s award-winning Coast Guard artwork titled “Guardians of the Sea.”

When asked how long it took Robert Semler to complete his award-winning painting “Guardians of the Sea”, he says his stock answer is “74 years plus six weeks.”

In all seriousness, the painting may not have actually taken his entire life span to complete, but his 50-some-odd years of artistry certainly speaks for itself as this is Semler’s fourth George Gray Award for Artistic Excellence.

Just a mere day after the nation celebrated its 240th birthday, a panel of judges revealed the winner of the best in show award in the Salmagundi Club in New York City. Hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard Art Program, 24 artists donated 26 works of art to the program that went on display July 2. The artwork will remain on display through July 15.

“Anytime I win is a thrill,” said Semler. “All of the awards make a difference – they all mean something – and this time I was shocked; tickled pink.”

Semler’s interest in maritime started early. He grew up in New Jersey where his father worked for New York shipbuilding, and his in-laws were Navy and Merchant Marine.

Adm. Charles Michel, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, Robert Pillsbury, President of the Salmagundi Club, and Mary Ann Bader, Coordinator for the Coast Guard Art Program, stand next to the George Gray Award winning artwork at the Salmagundi Club in New York City, July 5, 2016. The 2016 collection comprised of 26 different artworks. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Strohmaier.

Adm. Charles Michel, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, Robert Pillsbury, President of the Salmagundi Club, and Mary Ann Bader, Coordinator for the Coast Guard Art Program, stand next to the George Gray Award winning artwork at the Salmagundi Club in New York City, July 5, 2016. The 2016 collection comprised of 26 different artworks. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Strohmaier.

“I grew up in a maritime environment and it’s always fascinated me,” he said. “I have some salt water in my veins.”

His Coast Guard artwork often gets painted by photos he’s taken during his time in New Jersey. “Guardians of the Sea” was painted from a photo he took while spending time at Coast Guard Station Cape May when an air station was located there in the late 90s.

“The only creative thing in there was the kid in the water,” said Semler.

Nowadays, Semler can be found in Florida where his artwork is often viewable at a local gallery or on his website. The Coast Guard Art Program, home to nearly 2,000 works of art also houses about 15 of Semler’s paintings.

“There was a lot of nice artwork in the catalogue this year,” he said of his competition. “This was a surprise and I’m thrilled the Coast Guard is happy with my work.”

The art donated to the Coast Guard Art Program brings to life the myriad of missions performed by Coast Guard members. Many in this year’s catalogue featured dramatic search and rescues, environmental protection and drug interdiction operations.

Adm. Charles Michel, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, evaluates the artwork during the Coast Guard Art Program (COGAP) in New York City, July 5, 2016. COGAP makes use of fine art to educate the public on the roles and missions of the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Strohmaier.

Adm. Charles Michel, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, evaluates the artwork during the Coast Guard Art Program (COGAP) in New York City, July 5, 2016. COGAP makes use of fine art to educate the public on the roles and missions of the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Strohmaier.

The program makes use of fine art to educate diverse audiences about the Coast Guard. The art provides visual testimony to the unique contribution the service makes to the nation in its multifaceted roles as a military, humanitarian and law enforcement organization.

Art enthusiasts not able to visit the Salmagundi Club to see the exhibit before July 15 will also have a chance to view it at the Federal Hall National Memorial in Manhattan for a nearly two-month long exhibition opening July 19.

Some of Semler’s other Coast Guard artwork can be found HERE

Do you know someone who embodies the Coast Guard Core Values of Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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