Commemorating Maritime History - in Needlepoint

Image courtesy Denise Krepp / Susan Marszalek

Published May 20, 2020 9:01 PM by Denise Krepp

Shortly after the USNS Comfort arrived in New York City last month, a remarkable image appeared on my Instragram account - a needlepoint pattern of the Navy hospital ship with the Statute of Liberty in the background. Intrigued, I contacted the artist, Susan Marszalek.

Marszalek - aka "The Needlepoint Novelist" - lives in Rhode Island. She starts her day at 4:30 AM, painting needlepoint canvases for several hours. Marszalek only does custom work, meaning that when a client contacts her, they have a specific vision in mind. She turns the vision into a permanent reminder.

A repeat client sent Marszalek the photo of the USNS Comfort and asked if she could paint it in the size of a Christmas ornament. Marszalek shared a photo of the USNS Comfort canvas on Instragram and Facebook. She was immediately deluged with requests to paint more copies. Long-time needlepointers - most without a military or maritime background - also wanted it, so Marszalek turned a one-of-a-kind ornament into 20 hand-painted copies within 72 hours. This supply did not meet the overwhelming demand so Marszalek will be painting more in May and June. 

Curious, I asked if the USNS Comfort pattern was a one-off. Do folks needlepoint patterns with maritime and military themes? Marszalek quickly sent photos of holiday ornaments commemorating the D-Day landing with Army troops struggling to get on land and Navy landing craft in the background, Massachusetts Maritime Academy needlepoint belts, Coast Guards cutters and elegant sailing ships.

Lest you think that the requests are all maritime related, Marszalek once painted tanks commemorating the Battle of Bulge, and somewhere in the US this year, a Christmas tree will be adorned with a U.S. Army Warrant Officer Rising Eagle needlepoint ornament.

Marszalek’s needlepoint canvases contain details that only a person growing up on the water would know, so I asked about her connection to the maritime community.  Marszalek’s father was an avid sailor, and Marszalek grew up sailing in the northeast. Her father skippered the family boat in the Newport-to-Bermuda race in 1981, and she was lucky enough to be part of the crew on that trip back home to Rhode Island. Marszalek and her husband own a Catalina 380, and along with her siblings, they have continued in her father’s tradition of sailing past U.S. Naval Station Newport each weekend.  

When the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, you’ll find Marszalek at her local yacht club teaching women how to sail. She will also be racing on the only "all female" crewed sailboat, Brizo, in Narragansett Bay.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp is a former Maritime Administration Chief Counsel and Coast Guard officer.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.