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Artist Depicts Building of Hunley

Scott C. Boyd

- (January 2007) CHARLESTON, S.C. - A framed original print, the only one known depicting the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley under construction, brought $215 at an auction for the Friends of the Hunley.

"The print was wonderfully received by the crowd, and it was one of our most popular auction items due to the uniqueness of the print," Friends spokesperson Raegan Quinn said later about the Nov. 3 event.

The print was donated by graphic artist Dan Dowdey. The Friends use several of his digital pictures of the Hunley on their Web site (

Dowdey said he started depicting the Hunley back in '86 with mainly pen and ink. "It wasn't until '95 when I got my first computer and realized one can do art with the thing."

His pictures begin as 3-dimensional models of the submarine, created with Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. Then he can tilt and rotate the model in any manner before placing it into a scene with the desired background.

"There are some 3,579 objects in the image and it took about 12 hours to render it on my old AMD 3500," Dowdey said about the auction print.

It depicts the submarine as it was being constructed at the Park and Lyons machine shop in Mobile. Five important men associated with the vessel are shown in the left foreground: Baxter Watson, a machinist involved from the start with the Hunley and the two subs that preceded it, beginning in 1861 at New Orleans; Lt. George E. Dixon, CSA, commander of the famous, final and ill-fated third crew;

Also, Horace Lawson Hunley, a principal financier of the venture, after whom the submarine was named, and who was in command when he and the second crew drowned; Lt. William A. Alexander, CSA, a mechanical engineer who helped build the Hunley and who wrote about it after the war; and James McClintock, a machinist who, with Watson and Hunley, worked on all three subs from the start.

The 58-year-old Columbia, S.C., native has been interested in Civil War ironclads and the Hunley since he was a boy. "When I was 9 years old I saw the movie 'Hearts in Bondage,' about the battle between the Virginia and the Monitor," Dowdey said. This movie sparked his fascination with the armored ships that clashed in America's bloodiest war.

As Graphics Manager at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, Dowdey creates dioramas and other displays for the museum. His digital pictures of Civil War ships are just for fun (see
The winning bidder for Dowdey's print was Rob Fifield, from Charleston. Quinn said Fifield told her he got the print for his father's 65th birthday.

Some 275 people attended the Friends fundraiser, according to Quinn. "We were very pleased," she said. "It was a hugely successful event." The $40,000 raised (including roughly $4,000 from the auction) was more than twice what a similar event generated in 2005.

As for selling copies of Dowdey's new print in the Friends gift shop, Quinn said they haven't discussed it, "but it is definitely an option for the new year."

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