Wayne Scarpaci is a Turner for our times. His paintings are portals into naval history, rich in light and color, and succeed in tugging at our imagination. Thanks to his labors, we have glimpsed the infernal explosion on the Kongo in a line of Japanese capital ships—a painting used for the cover of James Young’s Collisions of the Damned. In another piece, the attack carrier Lexington cruises through the Pacific with fighters overhead and a Regulus missile on her deck. Then there are his paintings dedicated to his favorites—the battleships and battlecruisers—with leviathans like Vanguard at Gibraltar, New York in the Panama Canal, and Alaska guarding the ruined carrier Franklin off Japan.
Since childhood, Wayne was attracted to the box artwork found on the front of modeling kits. “Boy,” he once thought, “I wish I could paint things like that!” At the age of five, he opened his first studio at the kitchen table. Wayne also had a direct source for inspiration—his father Gordon had spent twenty-two years in the United States Navy, having survived the tragic sinking of USS Sarsi (ATF-111) in August 1952, and later worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gordon Scarpaci also worked on a project to transform the incomplete battleship Kentucky (BB-66) into a guided-missile battlewagon, designated BBG-1. One day, when Wayne was six or seven, his father brought the family to see Kentucky in Norfolk. The father had business aboard ship, so the others waited on the pier. As the oldest child, Wayne “was the man of the family while he was on the ship.” The unfinished behemoth, with only its machinery installed within the giant hull, must have been a breathtaking sight. Drawings and paintings of BBG-1 were displayed in his father’s office at the Pentagon. Wayne recognized one of them as having the same angle as some art from a box model of another conversion, USS Boston (CAG-1).
He nearly followed his father into the Navy, having entered the Sea Cadets program in San Diego in 1962. After he took an aptitude test, the Navy thought he would make a fine candidate to work in an engine room. Considering all the grease, humidity, and noise that came from such an environment, Wayne “wasn’t very happy about that.” Later, at a county fair in San Diego, he came across “a big, shiny Nike guided missile,” a weapon that could destroy enemy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). A US Army recruiter asked Wayne about his age, and one month later, young Scarpaci was off to basic training.
His tour of duty brought him to Germany, and from 1966 to 1972, Scarpaci worked on data communications between Nike Hercules missile batteries. Following his service, he was employed with Controlled Data Corporation (CDC). His electronics experience brought him back to the Navy world, and from 1975 to 1976, he worked on projects aboard the carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). Wayne joined the California National Guard after his time at CDC and worked on an early version of the Internet, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA Net.
After retirement, Scarpaci opened a studio to pursue his considerable talents in naval art. He painted in a space aboard the Battleship Iowa Museum in California in 2012, but while he enjoyed talking to visitors, the commute in Los Angeles was too much. Nevertheless, the historic USS Iowa (BB-61) has been the subject of more than a dozen Scarpaci paintings, including some of the US Navy’s conjectural designs like the CS1 “commando ship” and Talos missile platform. The Kentucky, which never reached completion, was brought back to life in his 2006 painting of the mighty warship anchored at sunset with twin Terrier launchers trained skyward and a sleek P5M Seamaster swooping over its stern. The latter painting was used for the cover of Scarpaci’s 2013 book, US Battleship Conversion Projects.
When it comes to art research, Wayne makes use of photographs and an extensive library of 500 books to reproduce a vessel on canvas. The details of his favorite warships, the battleships and battle-cruisers, are committed to memory. “That’s what’s popular with people,” he remarks. “They were big, they were beautiful, they were magnificent machines. As fabulous as they were, the aircraft carrier took over but never had the mystique that the battleship did.”
He accepts commissions, mostly from veterans or their families who want a memory brought to life on canvas. His work has run the gamut from barges to super carriers. He observes that “when people want a commission, they want a picture of a ship that Dad or Grampa was on.” With the passing of the Greatest Generation, Wayne’s newest clients are veterans and relatives with service and memories of more recent eras.
The devil, of course, is usually in the details. In past wars, warships were painted with camouflage to confuse their appearance—a useful trick for avoiding airborne or submerged adversaries. “With Kamikazes,” he explains, “you wanted to look like a hole in the water.” Wayne has sometimes requested that a customer provide him with a photograph of their requested ship to approximate the right pattern. He notes that naval experts once observed painted models on turntables and rotated them under smoke and lights to see if the camouflage offered any advantage. If the pattern worked, it would be adopted by the Navy. The West Virginia, a veteran of Pearl Harbor and Surigao Strait, was the last of the American battleships to wear camouflage and repainted a couple of days after arriving in Tokyo Bay.
Today, Wayne Scarpaci lives twenty miles east of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. To view his work, visit artbywayne.com.
Leading photo of battleship Kongo courtesy of Wayne Scarpaci.