Mark Brown on the ‘Nancy Ellen,’ a historic boat he is renovating in Ocracoke. Photo: C. Leinbach

Artist Mark Brown finds living on a historic boat he is renovating perfect for his lifestyle and his creativity.

Brown proudly showed a visitor his handiwork on his old wooden boat, the Nancy Ellen, which he believes also was built in 1926 by Ambrose Fletcher, who had built the Aleta.

The Aleta was Ocracoke’s storied mail boat that was a lifeline for islanders, bringing mail and travelers to the island in the mid-20th century.

A painter by trade, Brown will show new works from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, in Down Creek Gallery.

“My family lives in Bath to Greenville,” he said about his water connection. “This is where I’m from—the sound waters.”

Raised in Ayden, Pitt County, Brown has a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the Art Institute of Chicago and a master’s degree in art restoration.

He arrived on Ocracoke in 2014 after having lived and worked in Chicago since 2005. Here, he works with Wade Austin giving ATV tours on Portsmouth, and most recently taught art at Carteret Community College.

Brown is restoring his old boat just like islanders of yore—with found wood. The interior of his pilot house is clad in cypress wood salvaged from the renovation of the Ocracoke School’s first floor.

Mark Brown shows the WWII engine in the Nancy Ellen. Photo: C. Leinbach

“Cypress keeps the moisture down,” he said.

The boat’s engine is a WWII 671-diesel.

Decoupaged on a wall-mounted folding table are pages from St. Benedict’s writings in Italian.  Several years ago when Brown thought the ascetic life was his calling, he lived as a Benedictine lay monk for a year in Norcia, Italy, St. Benedict’s birth place.

“My time with them was extremely rich,” he said.

While he later decided that his life was elsewhere, his fascination with the 4th-century saint continues. He recently illustrated a children’s book, “The Miracles of St. Benedict,” written by his Benedictine mentor John McKenzie O.S.B.

The spiritual quest, travel and myths inspire Brown’s art.

“Underlying are continual myths that reveal themselves again and again throughout time, such as the hero and villain,” he said.

Brown’s painting of a fig cake inside the Ocracoke Working Watermen’s exhibit in Community Square was raffled off during the recent Fig Festival and will be on display in the Ocracoke Community Library.

Mark Brown’s painting ‘Nancy Ellen.’
Mark Brown Ocracoke NC artist
‘Oceanic Basilisk,’ acrylic, is one of Mark Brown’s new works on view Sept. 6 in Down Creek Gallery.
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