For the love of Alma
By Chan Khai Ling
Watercolour artist Maggie Chiara Cowling is an unusual regular at Docklands’ Shed 2, where the heritage sailing ship Alma Doepel is undergoing restoration.
Instead of hammers and nails, however, Maggie’s hands are kept busy with paint brushes and palettes as she captures the many facets of the ship’s transformation on canvas.
Bubbly and outgoing, the artist says she fell in love with the ship when she was taking a stroll around Docklands for the first time last year.
“There was no one in sight, and then I saw the Alma Doepel. It was such a beautiful ship, like a sculpture in itself,” she said.
She decided to come back to Docklands a few times to paint the ship in watercolour, which is her preferred medium, though not always the most successful choice.
“I have to work very quickly because watercolour dries very fast, especially with the wind, and it’s a very unforgiving medium. I have a love-hate relationship with it,” she said.
The more time Maggie spent at Shed 2, the more her interest in the restoration efforts of the Alma Doepel grew, leading her to do further research on the ship.
“She has such an extraordinary history. Did you know that she was stripped down in World War 2 to carry 400 troops for Australia? It’s just a fabulous story … such amazing service,” Maggie said.
Maggie has also had some interesting experiences while painting the ship, including having dogs drink from her palette and people applauding and bowing to her.
When the Alma Doepel restoration committee noticed her regular presence at the docks, they asked her to become their regular artist, which she happily accepted.
She has given a number of her completed sketches and paintings to the committee for exhibitions and an auction, and tentatively hopes to launch an exhibition next year.
Maggie believes that the Alma Doepel is a wonderful project for Docklands and contributes significantly to community-building.
“It’s a ship, and that’s what Docklands is about. You couldn’t have a more appropriate project that uses Docklands in its traditional form,” she said.