John Whitman former Titanic Museum owner still alive

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Ben Sharple

Looking over some postings, I've discovered that several members have been led to believe that the owner of the now defunked Titanic Museum in Sidney, Ohio, John Whitman, was dead.

This is not true. He is alive and well in Findlay, Ohio. He lives in the Jones Building and does artwork and teaches under Brush Master Studio.

I knew John personally for YEARS and his illness was always in doubt by everyone who knew him, including his own family. John needed to get out of town FAST and leaving in a cloud of "will he survive" was a great way.

He moved and was suddenly recovered. Those in Findlay who know him never even know he was 'sick'. County records in Sidney indicate that John took alot of people for their money and currently, he has judgements filed in Findlay already.

His museum could have been a great place but he tried making it grand with falsehoods. It is a shame.

Oh, well, just wanted to clear that up.

Ben Sharple

This is one of many articles I have found regarding John's new life. It's from the local Findlay paper. This article really floored me because I've known him since I was 11 years old and MOST of this article is not true. For instance, his brother died of a massive heart attack in a taxi cab in Florida, also, John NEVER studied art formerly period, in paris or otherwise. I could go on and on about this article. It is truly amazing to me that something can go to print without an ounce of fact.

Brush Master: All Is Nothing Without Passion
Family Editor

There are 766,000 stars in the mural on John Whitman's wall. The black iceberg looms like a bald mountain a scarce few feet from the ship's bow, the mast light just beginning to reveal its frosted edge.

On the horizon in the background is a light -- the Californian or just a very bright star? The ship's reflection in the sea of oil is so perfect that the unwitting observer is about to see the disaster in double -- not only the impact with the berg and the ship in perhaps 15 seconds, but the destruction of that beautiful reflection as well.

There are those artists who say a painting is ruined by too much detail. For John Whitman, there can never be enough detail. And, there is one other thing there can never be enough of. In his art and in his life, there can never be enough passion.

Generally, people associate the word passion with lasciviousness. But in this case passion has nothing to do with love or lust. Passion, as Webster would explain, is about extreme, compelling emotion, intense emotional drive or excitement. This is John Whitman's art -- the demand for detail, the overwhelming desire to sketch and paint around the clock, the never-ending fascination of the world around him just waiting to be put to canvas.

"My life without passion would be meaningless," he said.

Whitman has lived in Findlay only a short time. Having survived cancer, the loss of his brother to the disease, the collapse of his marriage and the loss of nearly everything he once owned, he moved here to be closer to his two grown children -- Joe, who lives in Findlay, and Emily, who lives in Dublin.

Whitman has always had overwhelming desire to create. He said even when he was a young boy, his brother would try to get him to go outside and play and young John would refuse saying he needed to do his artwork. After his bout with cancer, that desire became even more intensified.

"Fighting cancer has made me a completely different person," Whitman said. He said that before the cancer when he was what he called "normal," he never realized what life was.

Then, he said, the cancer pulled the floor out from under him and he realized that everything he had been living was materialistic and nothing about that sort of life matters.

"Love, friendship and passion matter," he said. "Passion is the most awesome feeling and desire. I have a very obsessive personality. I don't know middle ground. With me, it's either everything or nothing."

That comes through in his artwork.

"It is a God-given talent and I believe you shouldn't waste anything that God gives you," he said.

He studied art in Europe, has lived in Paris, London, Wales and New York. He fell in love with Findlay while his son was attending college here. His son stayed in Findlay following graduation and Whitman said he was fascinated with the beauty of the buildings here, especially the Jones Building where he now has his studio, The Brush-Master Art Studio.

"I always wanted to be a Jones Building artist," Whitman said.

"I don't think the people realize what they have here," he said noting that it isn't just the beauty of the homes and buildings, but everything Findlay offers -- concerts in the park, Latham Court's little niche of serenity in a busy work environment, the parks and the people themselves. He said he is a people person and he loves sometimes to just sit and watch people and greet them as they pass by.

He said he'd like to do a calendar of the buildings in Findlay. And, he'd like to perhaps do a painting as a gift to the city. The people here don't appreciate the interest the industries take in the community and the people, he said.

"It blows my mind," he said. "I'm not used to that."

His wish would be for all the buildings in Findlay to be renovated to the way they originally were. The Jones Building is especially incredible, he said, noting that he'd really love to have a studio in the large vacant third floor.

There are artists who lock themselves away, secluded from the rest of the world, refusing to come out of the safety of their studios. Whitman spends many long hours locked away in his studio heeding the compelling call of the canvas, but he is often seen walking back and forth from his studio to his latest subject. He does not photograph the buildings he paints as he wants to capture the true colors. When he can, he will sit with his easel on the sidewalk across from his subject, filling in colors and details. Sometimes someone will stop to watch him paint and for Whitman, that adds to the joy of his work.

"A person can have everything they want, but if you don't have someone to share it with, it isn't worth anything," he said.

And, sharing his artwork with the people of Findlay fuels the fire of his passion. The detail of his paintings doesn't extend only to the colors or the light's shadows or how each and every window requires as many as 27 brush strokes to make it look realistic. It extends to the feeling behind the building.

Whitman said he studies a home or a building and gets to know the owners to get the love the people feel for the home before he paints it. His desire is not to just capture the lighting, the detailing of the masonry or the way a tree's branches hang over the roof. It is to capture the passion the owners have for that home. It is the desire that keeps him at his easel far into the hours when most people are getting their rest.

"I've got to work. I can't get enough of it -- then again, it's the passion," Whitman said. "I wonder, am I abnormal because other people don't get into their love the way I do?"

But for Whitman there is no such thing as mere existence, not in his art nor in his life. And, the stronger the emotion, the more compelling. His obsession with the Titanic started when he was a young child and saw the first movie. He knows not only the call letters that accompanied those desperate SOS signals that fateful night, but exactly how many rivets were in the steel ship's hull and how much they weighed.

The sinking of the Titanic was one of the most irony-filled, passion-filled disasters of all time.

"It was the richest of the rich, the poorest of the poor and money didn't mean anything, because no one could buy their way onto a lifeboat that night," Whitman said.

With a laugh he said he loves disasters -- the Titanic's sinking, hurricanes, tornadoes. It comes as no surprise that the most awesome, passion-filled events are what inspires a man who cannot tolerate monotony.

"I'm comfortable working on 14 to 17 items at once," Whitman said. He'll go from pen and ink to acrylics to watercolors.

When he grows weary of working on one painting, he'll switch to another for a while. The 16-foot mural in progress of the Titanic stands veiled on one wall waiting for his interest in an attorney's office to stall momentarily while another building is in its first stages of sketching. Each has the same attention to detail. Each contains its own passion. The mural of the Titanic will go to Paris when it is completed. The paintings of various homes and buildings will be sold to the owners or kept in the studio.

Money is not his compulsion to paint. Whitman said he paints the buildings that intrigue him and after they are completed, if someone would like to purchase them he's willing to share them. He also has people who hire him to paint their homes. His works have become favored for individuals to give as gifts to the people who already seem to have everything.

But the painting has to suit him. If he doesn't like it, he'll do it over. It's not a matter of making a mistake. It's a matter of capturing just the feeling and look he wants -- and to him, it's all enjoyable.

"I have fun with life," he said.

Some would say he marches to the beat of a different drummer. Sometimes friends, even other artists, find it difficult to completely understand what motivates him. He said one friend once told him, "John, you're good, but you're not right."

For Whitman being "right" only matters in his work and he knows he's achieved that by the look on the people's faces when they view his art.

"I get so thrilled when people come up here," he said.

He also gets a thrill just from working -- and from being granted the ability to work. Life has dealt him some very hard blows, but Whitman marches on -- even if it is to his own drummer.

"There are two choices every person has to make every day -- to be happy or sad and to dress up or down," Whitman said. "Those are the only two choices I have to make every day. I don't plan anything anymore."
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