H. Shimidzu's work is a bit of a mystery. Many of his watercolors on silk, fine depictions of merchant vessels at sea, remain and he is one of the best known of a number of Asian artists doing maritime portraits in the early 20th century. Yet little is known about the man himself other than that he worked out of a studio in Yokohama, Japan. Like the Chinese School artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, Shimidzu's legacy is all in his work.
This painting is a great example. The Tug LOUIE BLACK was very much a California ship with a great Santa Catalina Island connection. But why a Japanese artist in Japan painted a local California tugboat remains a mystery. However, the fine details of the painting, typical of Shimidzu's work, show WTC's distinctive blue and white company burgee on the tug's stack. The tug's bold lines in black and white sit great contrast to the soft colors of sea and sky which are done in a more impressionistic style. The tug is painted in a realistic style with great touches including her pilot just outside the wheelhouse.
LOUIE BLACK was built in 1927 by the William Muller Shipyards in San Pedro on behalf of the Wilmington Transportation Company (WTC). WTC owned and operated many tugboats out of San Pedro and the Port of Long Beach, both key parts of the huge Port of Los Angeles. Lists of WTC ships are incomplete but the vessel is mentioned in the papers of the Muller Shipyards as well as in historic San Pedro news articles featuring assistance the tug gave to ships in distress in and around the harbor.
Founded in 1877 by the Banning Family, the Wilmington Transportation Company was key to the growth of Catalina Island as a tourist destination. In 1887, Santa Catalina Island owner George Shatto asked Captain William Banning to schedule one of his coastal steamers to make three weekly trips between Avalon and San Pedro to accommodate his vision of turning the island into a tourist destination.
In 1892 the Banning brothers, William, Hancock, and Joseph Brent, purchased Catalina Island for $128,740. WTC was deeded to the newly incorporated Santa Catalina Island Company, allowing the Bannings to enforce a monopoly of only WTC boats landing tourists on the island. Of course, once the island's popularity grew, competitors tried to offer other ferry services. Casual disputes became legal issues over the years and by 1907 a court care banned the Bannings' monopolistic landing policy in favor of an open port.
A 1915 fire which decimated the island's buildings led to an end of the Banning's ownership of the island and by 1919 all the shares had been purchased by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley which included ownership of both the Santa Catalina Island Company and the WTC. It was under Wrigley's ownership and management of the island that tourism really boomed and it has been a flourishing tourist destination ever since.
WTC owned and operated many tugboats out of San Pedro and the Port of Long Beach, both key parts of the huge Port of Los Angeles. The Wilmington Transportation Company became Catalina Island Steamship Line in 1948.
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