Ron Tully’s more than 500 drawings make it easy to take a trip down hydroplane memory lane at the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent.
The artist’s colorful drawings cover the back wall of the museum in a timeline of boats from 1915 to present. Other individual panels are set up throughout the museum to highlight specific boats such as those driven by Bill Muncey, Miss Wahoo and The Slo-Mo-Shun Family.
“It’s almost breathtaking when you see the magnitude of the work,” said David Williams, museum director, during a Tuesday tour of the exhibit. “You can understand a drawing or two but you can look at all 500.”
Each drawing is about 6 inches tall and 13 inches wide with names, decals and colors portrayed in painstaking detail.
Tully, 62, grew up a hydroplane fan in West Seattle.
“It was just natural to have hydro fever because it was the only game in town,” Tully said of 1950s summers in Seattle. “There was no pro team. I would go out to the time trials and the pits (at Lake Washington).”
Tully has always loved to draw but didn’t start his series of hydros until about 20 years ago.
“I did about a half dozen and then in 2000 I got the bug again,” he said in a phone interview July 12 from his home in Santa Maria, Calif. “I made it a project and mainly did it for myself. Then someone said I should sell them and I started to do that through a Seattle newsletter.”
Williams saw the drawings and decided an exhibit would be a good way to bring more people into the museum.
“It’s been about disbelief,” Williams said of visitors’ reactions to Tully’s work. “They think it’s amazing that one guy did all of this.”
Tully, who works as a senior illustrator for ITT Defense at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Maria, uses software graphics packages to draw the hydroplanes. It takes him about six to eight hours to draw a boat.
“The hardest part is the details with the letters, numbers and decals,” said Tully, who works mainly from photos to create his artwork. “A lot of hydro people painted names by hand and I try to match with a similar font to recreate the lettering.”
He’s also traced lettering so he can get it just right on his hydro renderings.
In fact, Williams looked at Tully’s work before the display went up and helped Tully, if certain boats did not quite have the correct color or lettering.
“He tried very hard to be incredibly accurate,” Williams said. “He made all the changes. Some may wonder if it’s necessary to be so exact, but if the wrong letters are used it blows the credibility, so it’s important to be accurate.”
Williams said most people might not notice if a letter might be wrong, but all it takes is one person who notices an error to change the credibility of the artist and artwork.
“He touched on about half of them,” Tully said about Williams and the accuracy of the boat details. “On some we had to fine-tune the color. I think we ended up with a good product.”
Tully said he rarely gets back to Seattle and doesn’t plan to attend this year’s Seafair hydroo races Aug. 6-8 on Lake Washington.
“I only went to two or three actual race days,” Tully said. “I’d rather watch it on TV where you can see everything.”
Tully’s work also will appear in the next few weeks on the back of Metro buses, as part of a marketing campaign for the museum. Fans also can buy the drawings for $10 each at the museum.
“They can tell us what they like; we have the discs and can print one while they wait,” Williams said.
The drawings help Williams and other museum guides tell visitors in more detail about the history of hydros. Specific panels show how the design of boats have changed over the years.
Tully also drew the Miss Detroit III from 1918. The museum owns and displays the actual engine from that boat. It was the first aircraft engine used in a hydroplane.
If you go
What: Ron Tully hydroplane art exhibit
When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday through Oct. 31
Where: Hydroplane Museum, 5917 S. 196th St.
Cost: $10, museum admission fee; $5 for senior citizens and students
Info: www.thunderboats.org or call 206-764-9453