Painter Debra Keirce has two passions: science and art. The Detroit-born artist and winner of this year’s George Gray Award received her bachelor’s degree in biochemical engineering from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While working as a scientist in New England in the 1980s, she also painted fine art. In 2010, she turned her passion for the visual arts into a full-time career.
Today, she paints from her Northern Virginia studio. Her work involves three themes: traditional renditions of still life, landscape, and portraiture; vintage and surreal work embracing aging, broken people, and oddities; and vistas of America in its land and people.
Upon learning that she had received the George Gray Award — the Coast Guard Art Program’s (COGAP) highest honor —Keirce noted she was honored to be chosen given the worthy pieces in this year’s collection.
“My work really speaks to our concerns about the planet and environmental issues,” she said. “The art depicts the dangerous and unsung work of the Coast Guard removing tons of debris from the reefs around the Hawaiian Islands.”
This year’s jury for the award was comprised of Coast Guard Director of Public Affairs, Rear Adm. Megan Dean, Robert Pillsbury, a professional artist and president emeritus of the Salmagundi Club, and Antonio Masi, president of the American Watercolor Society.
“Keirce’s work tells the story of our efforts at conservation and helping mitigate climate change,” said Dean. “Once hauled to shore, these nets are recycled into electricity. Protecting our reefs and the ocean is a vital mission for the Coast Guard, but many people are unaware of this important work. This art will better help tell our story to all those who see it.”
Keirce’s work is held in private museums and corporate collections across the globe, including the U.S., Japan, Belize, France, and England. She holds signature memberships in over a dozen major artistic societies. Largely self-taught, Keirce is also an author and has been featured in numerous publications.
Coast Guard artists — a talented cadre of professional artists — donate their work to the program. Today, the collection comprises over 2,000 works illustrating the missions performed by the service’s force of nearly 41,000 active duty members.
The Coast Guard Art Program educates diverse audiences about the Coast Guard through fine art. Today, the service addresses an abundance of challenges, including maintaining the nation’s security at home and abroad as well as executing its statutory missions, such as search and rescue, defense readiness, and illegal drug and migrant interdiction. COGAP art provides visual testimony to the unique contribution the service makes to the nation in its multifaceted roles as a military, humanitarian, and law enforcement organization.
Keirce has been a COGAP member since 2021. Five works of her art have been accepted into the permanent collection. She plans to continue using her extraordinary talent to depict many other vital missions of the service and some that may also be little known. “Through my work, I hope to aid in enlightening the public on the many contributions of this great service,” she said.
Art from the program is exhibited at museums around the country. It is also displayed in offices of members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, senior government officials and other military services, and Coast Guard locations nationwide.