And, although it?s been years since the rugged Nordic seafarer has ridden the high seas, he returns there every day, painting from memory and first-hand knowledge the authentic wind-whipped experiences he encountered aboard the square-rigged sailing ships and merchant marine vessels he served on during his 27-year sea-going career.
His detailed paintings have brought high acclaim and prominence to Hans and his wife, Mignon, who for 54 years has served as his manager and business agent in promoting and selling his brilliant works. For the past 10 years, the Skalagards have lived in Petaluma on a 10-acre former chicken ranch that?s been in her family since 1940. Prior to that, and following his retirement from the sea, they lived in Carmel, where they owned and operated Skalagard?s Square-Rigger Art Gallery from 1966 until 1997.
?This man is a real genius, a living legend. You don?t see quality like this anywhere,? said Mignon, from the comfort of her treasure trove maritime museum-like living room with walls covered with his powerful and exhilarating paintings. They are so realistic that a landlubber like me, who doesn?t know a poopdeck from a yardarm, can almost feel the salty spray and pitching decks of the full-sail windjammers depicted in his oil paintings.
During their time in Carmel, the Skalagards were an integral part of the cultural scene, hosting galas and mingling with the social and military elite. They belonged to many organizations, with Mignon serving as president of the Monterey Civic Club and Quota Club, being named Woman of the Year in 1992 by the California Legislature. Generous benefactors, they?ve donated many valuable paintings to various causes, museums and public-television auctions. ?You need to be involved in your community,? said Hans, who?s listed in more than 28 Who?s Who publications, including ?Who?s Who in the World? and ?Who?s Who in Society.?
Skalagard, whose intricate disciplined attention to detail depicts the ?Great Age of Sail,? has had more than 70 one-man shows since 1956 with one of his greatest honors being the 1960 exhibition at San Francisco?s Palace of the Legion of Honor.
Born of Viking stock in the Faroe Islands, Skalagard, 85, speaks five Scandinavian languages and can trace his family seamanship back 1,100 years, to the ninth century. He first went to sea at 13, becoming a heavy rigger on a Finnish wind-powered four-masted barque, where he learned the harsh realties and surreal beauty of sea life. Monster seas and rolling decks were deeply embedded in his mind, as was the 45,000 square feet of sail. He?s seen every corner of the Earth and says of all the world?s oceans nothing?s nastier than winter in the North Atlantic.
He transferred from riggers to the Merchant Marine in 1942 and was torpedoed and sunk three times during World War II, once left to drift for 22 days clinging to strapped-together oil barrels before being rescued.
A lifelong artist who studied at Copenhagen?s Royal Academy of Art, he retired from the sea in 1966 to concentrate on preserving the heritage of ships at sea through his indispensable nautical experience.
?I?m a complete historian when it comes to ships and sea. In order to create a ship at sea in its element, you first need to understand that element,? notes Hans, who is a resident artist at Aurora Colors Gallery. Images of his majestic sailing ships can be viewed at petaluma360.com at this column?s online photo gallery.
His partnership with his wife, who grew up in San Francisco and understands fine art, has been highly rewarding. ?I did the work and she did the yapping,? quips Hans, who says he?s still getting used to Petaluma, where, he laments, ?There?s no view of the ocean.?
(Harlan Osborne?s column, Toolin? Around Town, appears every two weeks. Contact him at harlan @sonic.net)