Ovid Ward, a noted Vineyard artist, sculptor, and boat designer, died on June 17 at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, at the age of 75. Ward was born in 1945 in West Virginia, and grew up in Roanoke, Va.
According to Ward’s sister, Beth Ward Tritsarolis, their mother was born and raised on the Vineyard, and their relatives go all the way back to their fourth great-grandparents, “They were Osborns and Coffins — good old whaling names,” Tritsarolis said. “As children, we’d spend every summer at the Timothy Coffin house in Edgartown, and the first thing we did after we unpacked was visit the cemetery and see all our old relatives.”
According to Ward’s biography from the Edgartown Art Gallery, Ward “spent many summers at his grandparents’ home, where he was fascinated by artifacts of his grandfather’s whaling trips around the world. It would lead to Ward’s lifelong fascination with art and design.”
In the late ’60s Ward graduated from the ArtCenter School of Design in California, and then moved on to a job with Chrysler. He would go on to make design contributions to many cars, including the Pontiac GTO and the Ford Mustang. An old friend of his, Jim Green of West Tisbury, said Ward loved to watch the car auction shows on TV, and he’d say, “Look at that steering wheel, I did that,” or “That’s the hood I designed.”
According to his Edgartown Art Gallery bio, in the early ’70s, Ward moved to San Francisco, and won a competition to redesign the Oakland waterfront. He then returned to the East Coast and worked as a marine architect for Hatteras Yachts and later Chris-Craft yachts.
“Ovid was a free spirit,” Tritsarolis said, “he just didn’t fit inside anybody’s box. He wasn’t a 9-to-5 kind of guy.”
In 1974, Ward moved to the Vineyard permanently, and started the next phase of his career, designing and building boats. He opened up his own business, called Daffy Duck Marine.
“Ovid’s boat designs were completely different from other boats,” Tritsarolis said; “they were around 16-feet long, sort of along the lines of a Boston Whaler with hand-carved teak … they were not only gorgeous but they were extremely seaworthy.” Ward built a fishing boat for Buddy Vanderhoop of Aquinnah, which somewhat broke the mold; it was 32 feet long. In addition he built a few trimarans for transatlantic sailing. Ward also piloted a boat of his own design, which set a record for circumnavigating the Vineyard.
Beth Tritsarolis described the scene of Ward christening one of his new boats. “He’d pace back-and-forth and back-and-forth,” Tritsarolis said, “it was like he was giving birth to a baby.”
Jim Green met Ward about 50 years ago at Daffy Duck Marine, and they instantly bonded over their love of boats. Green, quite a sailor in his own right, has circumnavigated the world three times in his sailboat Tango II.
When Green met Ward, he was building a trimaran for legendary boat designer Dick Newick. Newick would sail the boat Ward built for him to set the transatlantic speed record. It was high testimony to Ward that Newick would choose him to build his boat.
“For the most part, Ward was a powerboat guy,” Green said, although he did take him for a sail that turned out to be rather harrowing. “We were sailing from the Vineyard to Bermuda,” Green said, “and we ran into some rough weather going over the Gulf Stream. Ward was coming up on deck and he slipped and broke three ribs. He didn’t tell me, but I heard from some other folks that he didn’t think he was coming back.” Seventeen years later, he presented Green with a painting of the boat battling the storm.
In the early ’90s, Ward moved to the next phase of his career — painting. While he had always had a passion for painting, injuries to his lungs (which would ultimately lead to his death) caused by the fiberglass used to build boats led him to give up boatbuilding and turn his attention to painting and sculpting.
Ward took some of the technique and attention to detail he learned designing cars and boats and applied it to his maritime painting. From his Edgartown Art Gallery bio: “Bringing his training in design and impeccable technique to bear on his work, his realistic representations are dynamic and engaging. He brings a unique perspective to each piece, never failing to delight with the surprise of an unexpected focal point or a skewed angle. His deep roots on the Vineyard and love of place allow him to capture the particular colors of the Island waters, clouds, and light in his kinetic paintings.”
Louisa Gould, herself a sailor and maritime artist, and owner of the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven, said, “Painting boats, you’ve got to get the rigging right, the dimensions right, you’ve got to get the wind and the light right, Ovid gets it right because he understands boats, he’s spent time on the water, and he does it in a photorealist way.”
Gould said he has done a few abstract paintings as well. “He works tiny photographs into his paintings. “They’re just the coolest things you’ve ever seen,” Beth Tritsarolis said.
“Shep Murray, the owner of Vineyard Vines, owns about 60 of Ovid’s paintings,” Tritsarolis said, “some of them are about eight or ten feet tall.” At the small service held for Ward at New Westside Cemetery in Edgartown, Tritsarolis said that Murray called Ward’s paintings magical, and that they made him feel good every time he looked at them.
Ward was also a sculptor, and as a tribute to his whaling heritage, in 1993 he sculpted a full-scale fluke of a sounding whale, which is permanently installed on Edgartown Harbor next to the Old Sculpin Gallery.
And most recently, in conjunction with the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, Ward painted a series of the four Derby fish, and ran a limited-edition set of prints.
Ovid Ward was a man of many passions, boat designing and construction, painting and sculpting, and car design. He could often be seen on the Island driving a classic Mercedes or a blue Shelby Cobra convertible. And on the day he died, he had just taken delivery of a new Camaro, and had spent the day driving up to the Gay Head Cliffs with his girlfriend. It had been a good day.
Nat Benjamin, who knew Ward as a fellow shipbuilder, summed him up nicely: “I liked Ovid a lot. He was very creative, innovative, and always thinking beyond the normal. He was one of those Island characters you hate to lose.”