Walter Finlayson: Navy Musician and Artist

(from Something Foxy article)

Destiny took another turn when Walter enlisted in the US Navy and played clarinet and sax with Artie Shaw in the Newport, RI dance band.  “Artie Shaw was a tremendous musician–with opinions on every subject in the world,” he recalled. “He married Betty, the daughter of Jerome Kern,  whom I came to know well, as Artie would regularly disappear for 10 minutes after each set when we played at Navy dances. No one ever knew where he went so I was left to talk with his wife.”

Walter played with this big band (five saxes, four trumpets, three rhythm players and two clarinets) for six months  before shipping out to Okinawa, Iwo Jima, China and the Philippines during World War II.  His ship,the ALASKA,  was the only CB-1 which the Navy built–a combination of the Cruiser for speed and Battleship for size.  Their job was to shoot down enemy aircraft diving at carriers. Walter’s battle station was locked below decks, feeding ammo up to the machine gunners topside.



Walter Finlayson: “An Artist of Destiny” by Foxy Gwynne

“I call Walter an “artist of destiny” because in 1950 when he was giving piano lessons in a North Salem, NY, home, the student turned to him and said: “My father is an artist. Would you like to come into the studio and see his work?” When Walter entered the studio of Western illustrator,  H. Winfield Scott, it was like going through the looking glass.

“I was fascinated by this man’s work, ” he explained. ” When I was a boy living in New Britain, CT, I used to look at at western magazines all the time. There was a particular cover with an ace of spades and a gun hand in the center which I begged my mother to buy for me. And now in the studio of the very artist who had painted that cover, I saw the original art work on the wall!”  Scott, like Walter, was inspired by a western painting he had once seen…

As an adult and teacher at the old Katonah High School Walter developed a friendship with “Scotty” and took landscape painting lessons from him. In fact many of Scott’s  credos have been taken up by Walter, such as: “if the painting is wrong, but looks right, it Is right because for artistic reasons you need to do certain things.”

Although Walter was a talented sketch artist as a youth he credits Scott with teaching him, “everything I know about art” especially the use of oil paints.  “Where would I have been today if I had said to his son, “No, I don’t have time to look at  your father’s work?” Little did he realize that he had received an invitation to expand his creative destiny exponentially.