Doug Zeigler: Painter Turned Boat Builder

Posted by Jenni Kirby - October 03 2023

Locally renowned painter, and Crossroads Art Center Artist-in-Residence, Doug Zeigler has set course into uncharted territory, rekindling a childhood love of building and sailing boats. Doug says, “from the beginning, this boat project was a step into the unknown.” Now, after several years of hard-but-satisfying work, his beautiful mahogany boat is nearly ready to set sail.  



Growing up on a river in Illinois, Doug recalls spending much of his childhood near the water and around boats. “My dad was a good Carpenter, so I learned a lot by watching him work. When I was 10, I built a very simple small boat and through my teens I helped build a few small boats with friends.” While life and his marketing design career took the forefront for many years Doug says, “I knew one day I wanted to build a very traditional, complex sailboat.”



About 10 years ago, fully into retirement, and with a son studying furniture design at RISD, “this idea that we should build a boat really took hold. So we studied many designs and landed on a plan by a British designer for a traditional 16-sloop.” The process began with Doug and his son laminating and fashioning the ribs and framework, which define the shape of the hull. “There are no straight lines on the boat, so while its very beautiful it’s also very difficult to construct.”



After this initial phase, the project was put aside until three years ago when Doug picked up the pieces to start again. “The bulk of the work remained, and hundreds of hours of tedious construction, to get her finished. But I love to solve problems, so I kept focused on the challenges through each step.” Another son, who is a Hollywood Production Designer, provided valuable expertise when visiting.



Between painting and boat building, you might wonder, are there any creative overlaps? While naturally there are fundamental differences, Doug says both require a creative and “maker” mindset. “Boat building is more like a craft, following the design of someone else so you know where you’re heading. When painting it’s more freeform, and you never know how your painting will turn out. There is creativity involved with both, but painting is much more fluid and unrestrained while boat building is more rigid, rules-bound.”



In a few weeks, Doug will set sail at Swift Creek Reservoir for his maiden voyage... of course once the custom-made sails have arrived. When reflecting on the project, he says “it has been great to do something that can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time. Like any major project you’re going to need patience and diligence, which is all part of the process. It has been an extremely gratifying experience.”