Face of Defense: Machinist's Mate Moonlights as Mural Maker
Groton, Connecticut — affectionately known as "the Submarine Capital of the World" — is known for, well, submarines. The nautical town is home to Naval Submarine Base New London; 22 submarines; and the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine.
It's also home to Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jamie Pearson and his submarine art.
"I am scheduled [to paint artwork] until my retirement, but [I'm] always open to invitations," Pearson said of his wish to continue painting after he takes off the uniform. "[The community is] familiar with the artwork, but they might not know me personally. My artwork is bigger than me."
A machinist’s mate (auxiliary) by day, Pearson has spent half of his career in the Groton/New London area and lives in nearby Montville, Connecticut.
His day-to-day routine includes administrative tasks, mechanical maintenance and other routine Navy functions for Naval Submarine Support Facility New London, which is the waterfront maintenance support unit for Groton-based submarines.
When asked about his life as an artist, Pearson said, "My Navy job is Bruce Wayne, but my art life is Batman.”
Painting the Town
It all started in 2012 when he was invited to a local art show to showcase his paintings.
"They displayed about 30 pieces of my art," he explained. "And the first night there, everything sold off the wall immediately."
Since that showing, multiple community restaurateurs approached Pearson to paint murals. His first, large-scale mural was of music icon Jimi Hendrix, which piqued the interest of Hendrix's niece, Tina Hendrix, who has a music academy for at-risk youths in Washington state.
"Community service is important to me," Pearson said. "We made up these nice little postcards and sold them for a buck a piece, raised $300, and I sent a check to the academy to help the kids out."
Pearson said he's also participated in community art projects in Virginia Beach, Virginia, through the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art.
Pearson, who's from Owensboro, Kentucky, said his supervisor, Gary Dunn, has been supportive of his artistic endeavors. Dunn agreed to give Pearson time off to paint the murals off base – if the artist would also agree to paint one on base.
"[H]e said, 'Before you transfer, I want you to paint a mural in the classroom,'" Pearson recalled.
Dunn said their bargain was a win-win. "He turned an old chemistry lab into a classroom," Dunn said. "I called him 'Rembrandt Pearson.'"
It was this mural of the beloved submarine warfare insignia, known informally as "the dolphins," that began his on-base reputation. He's painted 14 murals on and off base since 2014.
Honoring His Day Job
Most recently, he completed a mural of a submarine sailing under Connecticut's Gold Star Memorial Bridge at the facility's production control office.
"This mural serves as a great reminder of the importance of what the men and women of Naval Submarine Support Facility accomplish on a daily basis," said Navy Capt. Dan Rossler, the facility's commanding officer.
"A submarine coming up the Thames River [in Connecticut] at the end of deployment is a result of the hard work and coordination that occurred in the production control spaces between our repair organization and the crews of the submarines."
Pearson is prepping two more murals at Naval Submarine Support Center, New London, the waterfront administrative and logistics support unit for Groton-based submarines.
Apart from mural requests, his graphic artwork is popular among shipyard workers in the form of stickers. Pearson's "zombie dolphins" artwork is a favorite decorative piece for shipyard hardhats.
"It was just a fun, cartoony, rotting-flesh zombie dolphin," Pearson explained. "But I made the image, and somebody over there made a bunch of stickers, and all the shipyard workers that love submarines put them on their hard hats."
Pearson is approaching 20 years in the Navy and hopes to continue his Bruce Wayne/Batman lifestyle in the Groton area after retirement – shipyard mechanic by day, artist at night.
Published with permission of DOD