Lighthouse Architectural Print rewarding project for Port Clinton illustrator

May 25, 2022 | Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

Award-winning commercial and technical illustrator Rick Henkel (Port Cliinton Class of 1986) has always had an affinity for the Marblehead Lighthouse. It began when his parents, who were of modest means, took the family on frequent local drives to parks, watching sunsets from the cliffs on west Catawba and hanging out at the Marblehead Lighthouse.

He didn’t know it at the time, but it would eventually lead him to spend the better part of eight years creating “Marblehead Lighthouse, 1903.”

“I began in 1999 and it was published in 2007,” he explained. “The first thing I did was to go to the lighthouse a lot. The people there were very nice and they noticed I did a lot of weird things.”

That included taking hundreds of photos – not the cool ones that tourists take, but closeups of bricks, mortar, window frames, the lens and other minute details. It also included lots of measuring, sketching and even taking paper and pencil rubbings of bricks, designs on steps and other seemingly uninteresting things.

“Before long, I was granted all the access I wanted. I just had to stay out of the way of the tours,” he said. “After that I took a tour of Great Lakes lighthouses to learn more about specifics on my lighthouse and on lighthouse construction and maintenance in general.”

That search included the Library of Congress, the National Archives and a long list of museums, libraries and lighthouses in the Great Lakes and New England.

During his research, Henkel worked with the U.S. Lighthouse Society to get invaluable information and completed several projects for the non-profit free of charge. That led to a perk: A free flight and accommodations at a lighthouse on the Pacific coast in Washington.

Henkel’s meticulous research provided enough information to add 24 annotations to the piece. Each one details historical aspects of the lighthouse lenses, structure and components.

After years of research and intense creative effort, the historically and technically accurate print became a reality in 2007. Henkel’s final 18 x 38-inch print numbered 5,000 total pieces when it rolled of a six-color Heidelberg offset press printed with colorfast archival inks on 130-pound acid-free paper.

He gave some prints away to friends, family and folks who had helped his research along the way. Many were sold to lighthouse aficionados while others ended up in museums and gift shops. But Henkel’s problem was that he was a full-time illustrator juggling multiple projects and now lived in Pittsburgh. More than 100 sold when Arcadia Press released “Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie: Ohio’s Historic Beacon” in 2015. But really, without a distribution path, they lingered. But as far as overall sales go, the project just wasn’t going anywhere, Henkel said.

Unfortunately in 2018, the bulk of the posters met their demise. Exactly 3,431 of them. They went into a paper and cardboard recycling dumpster in Pittsburgh.

“It was sad,” Henkel recalled. “Six years of my life. It was bittersweet but it was also a relief, the beginning of letting go. But creating it was sort of the fulfilment of my earlier dreams of becoming an architect, my fascination with technology.”

Henkel said he always wondered how things worked mechanically, and that’s why he became an illustrator. And back in their day, lighthouses were cutting-edge technology, with expensive Fresnel lenses coming all the way from France to be installed in American lighthouses and frequent innovations to keep them burning bright and rotating.

And the work of keepers? He described it with glowing praise.

“How they kept these massive ships and their cargo and also the human lives aboard safe – it truly is a wonderful story,” he said. “People may call me sentimental, but there’s a sacredness about both lighthouses and their keepers that should be remembered.”

Fortunately, Henkel didn’t deep-six all his inventory. Holding out for the 200th anniversary celebration this summer, he recently sent the remaining inventory from his home in Pennsylvania to Port Clinton. Some come rolled in custom-cut heavy cardboard mailing tubes (he described that as a “painstaking” process) and others in oversized flat cardboard Lighthouse Artwork & History panels.

A handful of local merchants received Henkel’s remaining fine art prints including Erie Food Market, Bassett’s, Just for Ewe, Lilly & Gert’s, Jack’s Amish Country Konnection and the Marblehead Lighthouse Gift Shop. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was presented with one recently during a special event at his residence in Bexley.

“I’m glad it’s out there again,” Henkel said. “I’m very proud of the work I put into this and, looking back, it was definitely worth the time and effort.”

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