Nantucket artist Jim Cromartie‘s Wikipedia page credits him with the creation of “Hard-Edged Realism”, and he’s sold his work to a princess and a vice president.
But right now, he’s a snowbird in St. Petersburg.
He’s also the artist-in-residence at the Crystal Bay Hotel through April. Cromartie will paint at the historic landmark while he waits out the New England winter.
It’s not something the hotel frequently does, but they made an exception for Cromartie, who has local friends.
An Artist’s Break
Cromartie grew up in North Carolina, in a place he says had no art galleries and “one little museum.” He began doodling in the classroom to impress his female counterparts, according to him.
“That was the beginning of my life of crime,” he joked.
Cromartie’s playful demeanor starkly contrasts his work, always hyper-realistic with down-to-the-bone details of grass blades.
The North Carolina native went to East Carolina University for the only art program in the state. In his 20s and ready to travel, Cromartie went to Nantucket with his fraternity one summer as part of a school trip.
He worked there in the summers, washing dishes and cutting yards before he moved to the island full time following graduation. He washed dishes and cut grass – and painted.
“It was a gorgeous place, it felt like you were walking through a painting,” Cromartie said. “There’s a lot of great artists out there, but you have to have a break.”
And he got one.
Nantucket was and still is a destination spot for the elite. At Cromartie’s first Nantucket show, Nelson Rockefeller, the 41st vice president of the U.S., walked in to browse.
“I told him ‘you look a little taller in the newspapers’, and he laughed,” Cromartie said. “I was young and dumb enough to banter with him.”
Rockefeller left with two paintings, priced at $350 each. He continued to work with Cromartie, and Cromartie says Rockefeller bought more paintings and donated them for a tax break.
Realism in the Real World
Eventually, he opened Cromartie Studio & Gallery in Nantucket, which he still owns.
In the earlier days, Cromartie’s gallery got a visit from a group of people, one of whom was a woman in giant sunglasses asking about his rose and lighthouse paintings.
She turned out to be Diana, Princess of Wales, visiting New England.
“When she took off her glasses I was in total shock. ‘Do you know who you are?’ I said. She said she didn’t have any cash and that someone would get in contact and send me a check,” Cromartie claims.
Eventually he received a mailed check for $25,000.
His career hasn’t been all celebrity and glamor, though it has its moments. For decades Cromartie’s perfected his hyper-realistic style and painted the places he visits.
“I’m a recovering perfectionist, and recovering perfectionists are my main clients,” Cromartie said.
Right now, he’s learning the brushstrokes for Spanish moss, a Florida staple.