Chris Demarest began his career as a writer and illustrator of children’s books, and continued along that path for three decades, producing over one-hundred books, and earning a NY Times Best Book in 2000. While living in rural Vermont, Chris became a volunteer firefighter (and later, in neighboring New Hampshire), which sparked a new episode in his career: capturing the people with adventurous professions. He flew with Hurricane Hunters out of Biloxi, Mississippi into Hurricane Ivan, and later, as an official artist with the U.S. Coast Guard, he covered their work on both coasts as well as with the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf—living aboard patrol boats was not just about creating art, but about hearing stories and seeing the world through their eyes. After the Persian Gulf, he spent a year flying medical evacuation with Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in NH which resulted in an exhibit and article in their medical magazine. As if that wasn’t enough, in 2011 Chris began an artist-in-residence at The Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, where he paid tribute on canvas to the WWII generation.
In 2013 Chris embarked on his national tour, continuing to pay homage to WWII veterans. Visiting libraries, museums and homes for veterans, his role was, besides painting in public, to be present to hear their stories. People often brought photos and scrapbooks from that war, sharing personal stories, not always about the tragedy, but many humorous tales as well. Those portraits now reside at the Palm Springs Air Museum in California. His life and career has been a whirlwind of creativity, honoring the exceptional first responders and heroes of our nation. You can read more about the national tour here.
It was this national portrait tour that brought Chris to Bainbridge Island, and like many who come here, he was enamored with its quiet beauty and tranquil setting, making his decision to settle here an easy one. Many of his WWII paintings completed here were of Japanese-Americans sent to the concentration camps. The Japanese culture and influence which permeates the island eventually inspired Chris to build a teahouse studio.
Chris now creates sculptural pieces, such as his non-traditional teapots, and aviation and nautical dioramas, all using bamboo, shoji paper and wood. The aviation project is now a book proposal on the history of aviation. The nautical pieces based on well-known literature will be exhibited at the Island Gallery and Eagle Harbor Book Co. this coming May and June.
I was first introduced to Chris’s work when I did a blog article for the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, where his unofficially titled piece, “First to Leave” – a depiction of the first Japanese-Americans (all from Bainbridge Island) to be sent to internment camps under Executive Order 9066, proudly hangs in the lobby of the museum.
Chris and I struck up a conversation about his work, and the more I learned about him, the more intrigued I became, and so I began to do research with the intention of writing a blog article about him and his life-long artistic journey. However, the more I learned, the more I realized it would be impossible to do a single article, and so I’ve asked Chris to assist in writing a series of blog posts about his numerous experiences. I look forward to working with Chris on this upcoming and series and sharing his journey.
For up-to-date information on his work, visit his here.