The history of the Polar Regions and the ambitious journeys to them are intriguing; when you travel to these remote destinations, you can't help but feel you're experiencing life the same way explorers might have lived centuries ago.
Meet Pete Vassilakos, a self-described time traveler and polar artist whose handcrafted polar art reproductions and originals capture this unique spirit of by-gone times.
Pete's the founder of VASSDesign, and you'll discover his art on your Arctic or Antarctic cruise in our Polar Boutique on-board shops. His polar passion, and creativity and skill in his craft are helping to keep the history of the places we visit and the people who explored there before us fresh and vivid in our minds.
Pete recently gave an exclusive peek into the trade secrets, passion and drive that led him on his personal journey to becoming a time traveler and globally-known polar artist. Meet Pete!
Pete Vassilakos, time traveler & polar artist extraordinaire
Pete's obsession in the golden age of Antarctic exploration began after watching the documentary The Endurance in 2000. From there, Pete was hooked and began digging for information about other expeditions, like the Terra Nova Expedition in 1912.
In 2013, he left his job of 13 years at the Montreal airport and began setting up kiosks for his art in artisan markets. His business quickly grew and in 2014, VASSDesign was born. He now creates his pieces full-time from his cottage-style home in Laval, Quebec.
"Most of my work is done in my home, but I also work outdoors in my small workshop, which is open to the elements all year round. It's quite cold in the winter," Pete said with a laugh.
That chilled weather in Canada very likely contributes to the inspiration necessary for creating his arctic artscapes. People from around the globe have purchased Pete's artwork, and he can now say he has successfully found the fulfillment that led him on his journey.
In a review of Pete's work, modern-day polar adventurer and Royal Navy engineer Seb Coulthard (who participated in the Shackleton Epic Expedition recreation of the historic voyage) once said of the golden age of exploration, "It was an age of aspiring young men who dreamt of adventure, men prepared to travel beyond the blank edges of the map."
Pete told us, "The struggles and tragedies involved; the heroism and comradery between the explorers; the clothing, the beards, the ships, the adventure, the unknown… What's not to love about this incredible era?"
The creative process behind polar memory-making
Creating works of art that accurately portray the struggle, beauty and challenges of the two Polar Regions requires more than just brute obsession; it requires dedication to detail and a passion for the subject, as well as creativity and skill.
Pete uses two personally adapted and perfected methods. He either paints his work entirely by hand, or uses an ink transfer method. Every piece is individually handcrafted without the use of modern machinery – it is never mass-produced.
For his original pieces, the process begins with an original design Pete creates himself. When the image is complete, it is then painstakingly aged to match the appropriate era.
In addition to creating the piece of art itself, Pete handcrafts the perfect frame from recycled wood, or with parts that have been recycled. His frames not only house stunning views of the Polar Region's history, but are also responsibly crafted, in line with Quark's commitment to sustainability.
"Most of my creations are made using recycled wood, or include parts that have been recycled, all which help clean up the environment," he told us. "Each creation is individually handmade, making each one unique in its own way."
Keeping historic polar expedition memories alive
Pete wants people around the world to know that polar exploration and the history of the Polar Regions is critical.
"The struggles and misfortunes these explorers faced for the sake of allowing humankind to step forward… to advance our knowledge and our civilization. To remember that these brave men gave up the luxuries we take for granted and faced insurmountable odds to go where no one else had ever been, in some of the harshest climates on Earth. We need to remember this."
A true artist, Pete also edits video and recently released a tribute to Sir Ernest Shackleton, a video for Shackleton's Imperial Trans Arctic Expedition 1914 (Centenary Edition) below:
Take a look at various Quark small ship tours you can take to discover Pete's art for yourself!