Francisco (Frank) Rapoza was born in New Bedford in 1911 and had an accomplished career as both an artist and teacher in the area. He also served as a crew member on the whaler Charles W. Morgan in the 1930s. His work reflects a fascination with the sea, the boats and the men that manned them.
He was a student of the well-known artist and Swain School director Harry Neyland. He received his B.S. in Textile Design and Fashion from the New Bedford Institute of Technology, and master's degree from Boston University. Frank taught at Swain (1943-1955), Tabor Academy (1948-1952) before moving on to become the Art Director at Dartmouth High School for 21 years before his retirement. He also taught during the summer months at Nonquitt Summer Camp. One thing Frank never retired from was producing oil paintings and an amazing amount of scrimshaw of the highest quality. His work is in a number of collections including three that reside at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. At one time he was listed in the who’s who in Art in America. He also painted murals in the New Bedford Airport and the Bass River Bank in Hyannis.
His scrimshaw is some of the finest work ever produced in that area of artistic endeavor, perhaps even surpassing his skill in oil painting. A vast amount of Frank's scrimshaw whale teeth are in the collection at The Mariner's Museum in Newport News, VA.
In his works, the old docks and piers come to life, teeming with activity, and life all rendered in amazing precision. One can literally feel the breeze on your flesh, smell the fragrance of the salt sea, and hear the commotion of the crews as they prepare to depart for their adventures on the high seas. Whaling boats sail again, fully rigged with their sails full of the west wind, plowing their way through the eternal seas, with soft clouds drifting along the horizon.
In his last painting, the painting that was literally on the easel when the artist passed away in 1984, the Wanderer lies offshore, stranded and signifying forever the end of old time whaling. A fitting last tribute to the end of an era and a life well spent.
A SAMPLING OF HIS WORK....
“Morgan & Wanderer at Dock”
Oil on Linen - 45” x 33”
The ship in the foreground of this painting, the Charles W. Morgan, was part of the American whaling fleet that numbered more than 2,700 vessels. The Morgan was launched on July 21, 1841 from the yard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The whaleship measures 106 feet, 11 inches length on deck with her beam measuring 27 feet, 9 inches. Her main truck is 110 feet above the deck; fully-rigged, and she carries 7,134 square feet of sail.
The Wanderer, launched in 1878 from the shipyard of J.H. Holmes and Son, was the last vessel built in Mattapoisett and the last whaler to sail from New Bedford. She is featured in the film Down to the Sea in Ships in which she was used for actual ocean footage while the Charles W. Morgan was used for some exterior scenes.
Ships line the docks, their sails full for the purpose of drying out. Wind and sun serve for that purpose. A few clouds drift silently by in a turquoise sky. Below the pier a few longboats drift in the changing tide while a few gents stand nearby discussing business or just sea faring gossip. The attractive feature of this painting is the bottom of the ship that traverses the water’s edge in a smoldering red tone. It catches the eye and gives a definitive accent in contrast with the overall cool tones of the composition. Once again the detail is remarkable.
“Foot of Center Street, New Bedford, MA”
Oil on Linen 49” x 36 ½”
Circa late 1960
At the peak of the whaling industry in the mid 1800’s, New Bedford was the richest city per capita in the world. There were over 300 ships actively whaling, bringing in a yearly catch of $10 million. This scene depicts just a fraction of the ships that plied the seas in search of whales.
Herman Melville was inspired to write the classic “Moby Dick” after having made a trip aboard the whaleship Acushnet. In his novel, Melville wrote
“. . . nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses, parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they?. . . Yes; all these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea.”
One of the artist’s most famous paintings (there is another version in the New Bedford Whaling Museum). This picture depicts the fleet of Whaling boats in dock some undergoing repairs or being unloaded with whale oil and being resupplied for further voyages. The overall sense of pictorial harmony is amazing. The viewer feels as if he has traveled back in time and is looking out the window of perhaps of an accounting firm, viewing the harbor at the height of activity. Here is the bustle of a 19th century industry that resulted in the fabulous wealth of many a New Bedford merchant. We are looking across the river to Fairhaven and beyond. A nearby roof and smokestack are to the left of our view; a couple of pigeons are included as our charming companions on this clear and serene day.
“Bark Wanderer Wreck”
Oil on Linen – 32 ½” x 26 ½”
BARK WANDERER LOST (Vineyard Gazette, Tuesday, August 26, 1924 – 4:01 pm)
Twenty-four hours after she had sailed bravely from New Bedford on what was to be her “last voyage,” the staunch old bark, Wanderer, last of New Bedford’s once glorious fleet of square-rigged whaling vessels, came to a tragic end off Cuttyhunk Island late Tuesday afternoon, when mountainous seas and a shrieking northeast gale drove her on to the jagged teeth of Middle Ground shoals.After seven men of her crew had been picked up by the Cuttyhunk Life Saving Station, the other boat with eight men could not be located. The boat’s crew, it was afterwards learned, finally reached the Sow and Pigs lightship, from which they were taken off Wednesday morning by the life saving crew.
Here the artist has depicted the doomed whale boat, Wanderer, as it has just run aground near Cuttyhunk. The composition is a masterful study in silvery tones. The detail in the ship is magnificent as it sways to the left in its tragic final swoon. Once again overall tonality reigns supreme and there is a peacefulness belied by the tragedy about to ensue. Men died in this disaster but the effect here is one of a beguiling serenity. The ship has met its fate and will eventually break up into pieces that wash ashore to this very day.