About Maurice “Jake” Day
Maurice Day descended from a long line of shipbuilders who settled in Damariscotta, was born in Damariscotta in 1892. A prolific artist, sculptor, photographer, and naturalist, his work mirrored his passion for Maine’s landscapes and creatures. Also known as “Jake” colonel of “Jake’s Rangers”, he and his band of local sportsmen were central characters in many of Edmund Ware Smith’s hunting and fishing stories.
While attending Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, Maine, Jake showed great art promise. After graduation, he attended the Massachusetts College of Art, where he studied painting and drawing. Later, he transferred to the school of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and graduated in 1915.
His art career was interrupted twice by military service. First, he served on the Mexican border with an artillery unit. Later, he was assigned to the Naval Camouflage Department.
After the war ended, Jake returned to Damariscotta and began illustrating for a variety of publications. He illustrated books for Henry Beston, Elizabeth Coatsworth, and Edmund Ware Smith. In addition, he illustrated children’s books and magazines including Vanity Fair, Life, House Beautiful, National Wildlife, Outdoor Life, and the Atlantic Monthly. He painted for the National and Maine Audubon societies, was an editorial cartoonist for the Maine Sunday Telegram, and was employed by numerous advertising agencies.
In 1938, Jake, his wife, Bea, and sons, Mc Clure and Richard, left Maine and traveled to Laguna Beach, California, where his art caught the attention of the Harmon-Ising Studio. That job led to his employment by several other top studios including Walt Disney, MGM, and Hanna Barbara.
While working for the Disney studio, Jake convinced Walt Disney that Bambi should be a white-tailed and not a mule deer. Jake then arranged for two, orphaned, Maine deer, Bambi, and Faline, to be shipped to California as models for the illustrators. During production, Disney commissioned Jake and his closest friend, Lester Hall, to photograph the flora and fauna in the Katahdin region for the upcoming movie. As a result, many of the scenes and wildlife in Bambi are from the Baxter Park area.
In 1944, homesick for Maine, Jake and his family returned to their Damariscotta home, built in 1798 by his great-grandfather. Soon he opened the Whittle Shop where he sold miniature birds, animals, and coastal scenes he’d carved from balsa wood. He was a pioneer in the use of driftwood, and his chickadees, perched delicately on weathered wood, quickly became his signature carving.
Eventually, Jake found he had too little time for his first love, painting; so, he closed the Whittle Shop and returned to painting his beloved Maine mountain, the coast, and imaginative scenes. Often, he would escape with his camera and tent to the Katahdin region or islands for inspiration. Jake’s sense of humor was captured in his imaginative watercolors, personifying wild animals in very human escapades.
Jake was also recognized as a leader in the field of photography. His stunning photographs of Maine landscapes, flora, and fauna were often inspirations for his paintings. From the 1950’s well into the 1970’s, he gave slide shows for audiences throughout Maine which incorporated slides of his photographs and artwork. His theme was clear: slow down, look, appreciate, and protect Maine’s precious, natural resources.
During December, from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, Jake adorned his Bristol Road windows with enchanting carved dioramas, depicting a variety of holiday scenes. Many traveled great distances to peek into Jake’s magical windows. Since 1998 the family has displayed the dioramas each year during the month of December at the Day Homestead on the Bristol Road in Damariscotta.
In recognition of Jake’s love for Maine and his efforts to promote conservation, he was honored on many occasions. Percival P. Baxter conferred on Jake the title of “Artist in Residence” of Baxter State Park. Many of the “Up North” paintings the family donated to Baxter Park can still be seen at Park Headquarters in Millinocket, Maine. Jake designed the seal for the park and also illustrated the Baxter State Park map. He was awarded honorary degrees from Unity College and the University of Maine, and three governors appointed him to serve on Maine’s Art Commission. Jake’s art has been exhibited nationally and continues to be shown at art shows throughout Maine.
Jake was robust and fit and loved to hike with his cameras hung loosely around his neck. At 78, wearing moccasins, he climbed Katahdin with Governor Ken Curtis. On his 80th birthday, friends and family gathered on an island in Muscongus Bay to celebrate as the mermaids crowned him King Neptune.
In May of 1983, at the age of 90, Jake passed away at his Damariscotta home leaving a legacy of his art, carvings, and photography which captured the Maine scenes and animals he so loved.