BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Ninety-two year-old Ernest Haas is passionate about the past. "I had no idea of the incredible history of this area," he said.
The retired history teacher is all about Burlington in the mid-1800s, when it was the third biggest lumber port in the country. "They would dump tons and tons of sawdust. We may have some of it right here," Haas said.
The mills are long gone and the winter weather brings a grayish hue to the dormant waterfront. "Pretty damn bleak, I'll tell you that much," Haas said.
Haas is bringing Lake Champlain to life with his paintings. "Make it stand out a little bit more than it did," he said. "I'm going to lighten it up just a bit."
He says few people are painting period pieces of the lake. "I tried to retire and not paint, but I found it too difficult," Haas said.
His makeshift studio is a converted bedroom at his condo in South Burlington. He's putting finishing touches on the steamer Chateaugay coming into Burlington's harbor over 100 years ago. Later, the ship came to Vermonters' rescue when the flood of 1927 destroyed many of the bridges and roads in the state. "This was used to rush medical supplies up and down around the lake," Haas said.
He uses old photographs plus a brush of imagination to make the artwork pop. His work isn't just on the lake, but what lies beneath.
Reporter Joe Carroll: Were you surprised about how much history there was underneath the lake?
Ernie Haas: Yes, oh God, yeah.
He's painted the USS Spitfire, a Revolutionary War gun boat that went down in battle against the British. There's a cargo ship of iron ore - resting deep on the bottom of the lake. Also, the Sarah Ellen, a schooner which sank on a cold winter's day in 1860 taking two souls with it.
Reporter Joe Carroll: How would you rate your paintings?
Ernie Haas: Modest. In a small area, I'm worth looking at, I think.
Haas is no stranger to painting or water. Growing up in Albany, New York, he saw the large ships going up and down the Hudson. He joined the Navy at 17 at the tail end of World War 2. The seaman became an illustrator, but he was recalled during the Korean War. Later, he taught high school history in Connecticut. After 20 years of teaching, he moved to Vermont with his late wife, Betty Lou, in order to be close to nature, and of course, to paint.
Reporter Joe Carroll: Would you like to go back to the 1890s and see the ships and such?
Ernie Haas: Sometimes, but I wouldn't be living to 92 of course.
And living he is. During the warmer weather he walks the very shores he paints. "This is an interesting one, this an ambush of one of the American boats, The Liberty, a little schooner," Haas said.
A Super Senior bringing to life a time long forgotten.