2015-11-12 / Front Page

Yachtsman Harry Anderson to be Honored at Seamen's

By James Merolla

Artist Leith Adams with her likeness of yachtsman Harry Anderson, which she will present to the Seamen’s Church Institute. Anderson, now 94, posed for longtime friend Adams two years ago. (Photo by Jen Carter) Artist Leith Adams with her likeness of yachtsman Harry Anderson, which she will present to the Seamen’s Church Institute. Anderson, now 94, posed for longtime friend Adams two years ago. (Photo by Jen Carter) There is a glorious serendipity to the fact that a world-renowned sailor, nearly a century old, will be on hand to witness the dedication of an original bust, of him, to the city's maritime institute whose mission it is to house, comfort, feed, and honor seafarers around the world.

Newport sculptor Leith McLain Adams is giving her original bronze-painted bust of Henry Hill Anderson Jr., (Harry to friends) to the Seamen’s Church Institute after the century-old haven for sailors holds its annual meeting on Monday, Nov. 16.

Seamen’s is 96. Anderson is 94. Both are still going stronger than a nor’easter.

Anderson is Director Emeritus and a long-time benefactor of Seamen’s. But he is so much more.

In 2013, a magnificent biography called “The Strenuous Life of Harry Anderson,” by Roger Vaughan, was added to the thousands of seafaring books which fill the impressive maritime library on Seamen’s second floor.

Anderson has been called the “most influential presence in international sailing for the past 50 years.” The former Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, he has been described by biographer Vaughan this way: “There’s nary a maritime organization or yacht club of significance he has not been associated with or commanded … The ubiquitous Anderson has raised glasses in all the smart waterfront taverns around the world. Presidents and royals take his calls. Communicator, problem-solver, philanthropist, and friend – sailors, from hall of famers to captains, know him as Harry.”

Adams met Anderson decades ago when she gave him an incredibly fast ride from New York to Newport in a racing Mustang that caused the yachting icon’s nose to twitch.

“I love Harry,” said Adams. “You talk to someone nautical and they say, ‘You know Harry Anderson!’ And then they cross themselves. He’s that big.”

As fascinating as Anderson’s century-long nautical history is, Adams can spin a few tales of her own. She learned to sculpt at age 19 in the inspiring throes of Florence, Italy: a Southern girl heady with romance in one of the most romantic cities on earth.

Initially self-taught, she sculpted herself on a whim one day and an aunt told her, “My God, Lee, I think you have a little talent.” Her aunt sought the advice of a local sculptor, a professor who ruled the artistic world of the city, who took one look at Adams’ work and exclaimed, “You are to start in my studio tomorrow. You are not going to school.”

“He was the Michelangelo of the area,” drawled Adams, a hint of her Southern roots still charmingly evident. “I was a pig in honey. I was so lucky to be there.” Her first efforts at copying a bust originally made in the image of a bust by Donatello resulted in the professor lopping off the cheekbones with a knife. “You start with the profile,” said the teacher. And so she did.

When he returned (from sculpting the Pope and the Queen), he praised the front of the ears she had made, but lopped off the back. “I said, ‘Professor, do you know how hard it is to do ears?’ And we laughed about that for years,” said Adams.

He told her, “You should be in every museum in the world, if you study and you work hard. Next for you are cadavers!” “I told him, ‘I’ll never be in every museum.’ There was no way I was cutting up bodies,” laughed Adams.

Adams’ work is featured in many museums, including her sculpture of Aaron Burr in the Aaron Burr Museum in New York.

The unveiling of the Anderson bust will be at a reception following the 6 p.m. meeting. Guest speaker Teresa Crean of the Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant at the University of Rhode Island, will discuss local initiatives that address coastal adaptation to climate change and rising sea levels.

The Seamen’s board of directors and staff invite the public to an evening of reflection, celebration and looking ahead as they usher in their 96th year of fulfilling their mission on the waterfront.

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