Together We Are Boston Strong

This April marks the five-year anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Since the tragedy, the city has shown resilience, spirit, and support for survivors, living up to the popularized slogan, “Boston Strong.” Today, the “Together We Are Boston Strong” campaign seeks to connect a historic artistic legacy with a highly worthy cause.

The 2013 attack took place at the marathon’s finish line by Copley Square. As the great-great grandson of 18th-century Master Artist John Singleton Copley, after whom Copley Square and several other city landmarks are named, Arizona-based Living Master Artist Ed Copley felt particularly moved to help survivors. And he found his own, creative way of doing so.

John Singleton Copley was well-known in colonial Boston for his lavishly realistic portraiture and innovative painting techniques. In 1778, he painted perhaps his most striking work: Watson and the Shark. The painting is an artistic rendering of a real-life shark attack in the harbor of 18th-century Havana, Cuba. The victim, 14-year-old cabin boy-in-training Brook Watson, lost his leg in the vicious attack. Watson went on to professional and political success and became a close personal friend of Copley’s. He commissioned the work himself. Copley’s depiction showed the attack, but focused on Watson’s miraculous rescue by his courageous shipmates. Before his death in 1807 at age 72, Watson requested that painting be hung in a hospital, to provide a hopeful message to young people undergoing similar hardships.

Over two hundred years later, Ed Copley saw in his great-great grandfather’s painting a creative way to give back to the victims of another tragedy. “I can’t believe what’s going on in our country today,” Ed recalls thinking when he first heard about the Boston Marathon Bombing. “This is just horrible. The next day, I got to thinking, ‘what can I do as an artist to help these survivors?’”

Ed decided to recreate Watson and the Shark, replicating his ancestor’s careful oil paint techniques. He aimed to complete the ambitious project to directly benefit the survivors of the bombing.

Steve Rider, an Arizona-based Keller Williams real estate agent, sponsored the project in collaboration with the Steven Cohen Team of Keller Williams Boston-Metro. With Steve’s backing, Ed Copley visited the museums where John Copley’s original three versions of Watson and the Shark hung. He studied the paintings carefully, planning his layout and painstakingly repainting again and again.

Fortunately, Ed was already well-versed in artistic replicas and Old Master painting techniques, making him an ideal heir to the legacy of his great-great grandfather’s work. He is a member of the International Guild of Realism, and has earned his Living Master Artist designation after many years of study, practice, and gallery exhibitions in fine art. Ed is one of a select few living painters to continue the old tradition of using oil paint on copper, as well as paint-mixing methods involving egg yolks. He also often designs and constructs his painting’s frames.

Indeed, in order for Ed’s version of Watson and the Shark to be a true replica, he needed a century-appropriate frame. After additional research into the methods of his great-great grandfather’s era, Ed hand-carved a gorgeously intricate, ornate wooden frame to surround his smaller-scale iteration of the painting. Then, he had the entire frame professionally outfitted in gold leaf.

Even without considering the exquisite frame, Ed Copley’s stunning recreation of John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark is currently valued between $70,000 and $80,000—a valuation that will make a difference in survivors’ lives.

At the center base of the frame, Ed made sure to carve a message of hope. Under his artist’s signature, the painting proclaims “Together We Are Boston Strong.” Five years after the tragedy, the sentiment rings true, and shines proudly through Copley’s Watson and the Shark.