Water, water, everywhere is an apt description of the artwork of Rita Ziegler, whose paintings of sailboats fill a unique niche in the local art scene, with many of them sold to mariners themselves.
“Sailors who buy my paintings always check the boat’s rigging before they buy. I am known for my accuracy,” says Ziegler, who has sailors from near and far as steady customers of her work.
“They’ll come in and study the painting, and I hear them say, ‘She got it right. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.’”
That attention to detail was honed during her career days, in graphic design and later as a technical publication manager, illustrating minutely detailed drawings of aircraft and helicopter parts at Sikorsky Aircraft in Connecticut, which had to be correct down to the smallest detail.
Having lived on or near the water her whole life, she says she is drawn to its beauty and to the varying moods of the ocean and sky. She developed a love of seascapes during the time she spent salt-water fishing from her family boat in Long Island Sound. And, while she has only ever owned motorboats, Ziegler says she appreciates the beauty, simplicity and grace of the sailing vessels.
Her signature style is reminiscent of older schools, not only depicting the details of the craft, but displaying them in motion as they tackle nature’s elements in a fashion that any seafarer can relate to.
Ziegler’s choice of color palettes creates restful and calming paintings, even while depicting that movement and energy.
“My paintings have a calm and serene look. I use muted colors, and people really like that,” says Ziegler, whose ships are often seen against a misty background, creating an ethereal feel.
To obtain the look, she says, “I use subdued colors and layers of subdued colors.”
In her artworks, the water surrounding the boats reflects the light, and the pieces are depicted with a depth, warmth and uncanny realism.
“I’m happiest when painting. If I don’t paint, I get moody,” Ziegler confesses, noting that she paints pretty much every day, even if only for a couple of hours.
“I pick up a paintbrush and get into the zone again, and really feel alive and happy.”
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Ziegler earned a bachelor’s degree at Fairfield University in Connecticut, while employed fulltime, and she studied art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Paier School of Art.
She and her husband started their family in King of Prussia and later moved to Connecticut. Ziegler first began painting in 1999, as she was getting ready to retire, initially choosing watercolors as her medium of choice.
They moved to Vero Beach in 2003, having studied communities up and down the coast, and Ziegler soon began working in oil. She explains that oils are easier to mount than watercolors, not needing to be behind glass, which is a plus in our humid conditions.
Ziegler says one of Vero’s major draws was the Vero Beach Museum of Art and its wealth of art classes. Then thinking to herself, “I would just be in my glory if I could do that,” she now does just that, teaching classes in oils at the museum.
“It’s very unstructured, I let them do what they want, and I help them. I kind of call it coaching them,” says Ziegler.
She joined the Artists Guild Gallery in 2006, when it was housed at Royal Palm Pointe, and remains a partner member today in its 14th Street location in the Arts District, where her work is displayed. She also offers classes there.
Ziegler is an active member of the Vero Beach Art Club, and served as the applications chair for the recent Under the Oaks Fine Arts and Crafts Show, put on by the VBAC. The committee this year was charged with narrowing down an initial 700 artist applications to just over 200 artists for the juried show, a well-attended, weekend-long event that annually draws thousands of visitors to Riverside Park.
Ziegler says she is always amazed at the vast number of people who came from outside the area to partake of Vero’s rich and diverse art scene and meet other artists.
In addition to regularly being accepted into Under the Oaks, Ziegler’s paintings have won awards at the VBAC Art by the Sea Fine Arts & Crafts Exhibition, and at various juried shows in Connecticut.
Photos by Joshua Kodis