A Breathtaking Triumph Painting by Alison Shepard

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A Breathtaking Triumph

Alison Shepard

United States


Size: 36 W x 26 H x 2 D in

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Art Description

Painting: Oil on Wood.

After 17 days at sea, Shackleton and 5 of his crew members finally made it to South Georgia Island. Yet the journey toward reaching civilization and securing rescue for his crew was far from over. With the rudder of the James Caird broken, they had to get the ship to the nearest safe coastline as soon as possible. They were many miles away from Stromness Whaling Station, where they hoped to get help securing a boat large enough to rescue the entire crew. There was only one thing to do: Shackleton had to make the journey to Stromness on foot across 26 miles of razor sharp glacial mountains. Some of the peaks of South Georgia Island were nearly 10,000 feet high. They had no map. No one had ever crossed these mountains before.
Shackleton decided to take Tom Crean and Frank Worsley with him for this trek, and carpenter Chippy McNeish fashioned for them makeshift hiking boots with 2 inch screws that he had taken from the Caird. He pierced them through the soles of their shoes as spikes to help prevent slippage.
Roped together and with only a carpenter’s adze for carving out ice and steps for slippery slopes, they hiked for 36 hours across 26 miles of some of the most dangerous terrain in the world. At one point, with a thick fog descending and a concern that they would freeze to death on one of the mountain peaks, Shackleton made the decision that they would have to get down the mountain with great haste by holding on to one another and sliding. In under two minutes, they slid down 2,000 feet. Later, they would reach other dangerous descents and even had to tie their rope to a boulder and take turns repelling through a rushing waterfall of melting snow water. For this painting, I used two of Frank Hurley’s photos of Stromness from when they first set out on their voyage in 1914 and I combined them to show the fierce beauty and danger of this majestic island.
When Shackleton, Worsley and Crean finally made it to the whaling station, they were barely recognizable: their hair was long and matted, their faces dark with the soot of seal blubber (their fuel for cooking), and their clothes were thread-bare. Once they had the chance to bathe and eat, there was a reception for them in a large dingy warehouse shack that Worsley described as “full of captains and mates and sailors, and hazy with tobacco smoke.” There were four Norwegian skippers there who came forward in awe and admiration for what Shackleton and his men had been through. They said that they had sailed the Antarctic Seas for forty years, and they wanted to shake the hands of the men who could sail a boat as small as the James Caird from Elephant Island through the Drake Passage to South Georgia. Everyone in the room stood up and honored them and congratulated them. In this sacred space that smelled of tobacco smoke and whale carcasses, there were no speeches, no medals, just heart-felt admiration. Of all the honors that were to follow, and there were several upon their safe return, none exceeded the simple but profound solemnity of this moment.





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