Mike Boss is a native of Kansas and has painted most of his life. Early on he was introduced to a big world and the much larger cosmos. He was quite aware that painting and history were linked. While growing up he was reading “Fighting the Flying Circus”, “men’s” magazines with swash-buckling illustrations, books on dinosaurs, and outer space. The world then and now, as well as the cosmos, fought hard against the mandatory and rather perfunctory years of grade school.

Growing up during the cold war was a very interesting time for someone who loved aviaton and space. Mike does not remember “duck and cover” but running outside to see a KC-97 refueling a B-47. As with many young boys, Mike was no different in that most built the new-rage plastic model kits. Some models themselves were really quite imaginative but what captured him for life was the spectacular box art by Jo Kotula, Ray Gaedke, John Steel, Brian Knight, and most of all, Jack Leynnwood.

After graduating from high school Mike majored in music as a double bass player. While attending Southern Illinois University he called his childhood hero, Jack Leynnwood. For several years he had kept an article from Private Pilot magazine, and rereading it, decided to touch base with his hero and soon-to-be mentor. The rest is history.

Years later Mike decided to go full time as an illustrator. Jack Leynnwood was a treasure trove of insight on composition, taste, and getting the right look. Never one to hide ideas and technique or play silly ethereal art games, he was always willing to share his knowledge.

Over the years Mike has painted about everything: aviation, space, rail, marine, landscapes ,etc., as he is not into the groove of being a genre painter of one or two subjects. “Life is way too short and there are so many, many things to paint and sadly, with any artist, they won’t all happen.” He has won his share of awards etc., but it isn’t of primary importance. The greatest award is the look on people’s faces when the ideas in the painting “hit.” He loves when a chord strikes and viewers go out with piqued interest in a subject.

In 2003, Mike was browsing in the local library and found a new book on great ships written and illustrated by Patrick O’Brien. Looking through the gorgeous publication he saw a fabulous painting of a humungous Chinese junk. That begged the question–who was Cheng Ho? Right away a search on the internet was done and the first hit to come up was Gavin Menzies’ site 1421. Right away he knew he was on to something. Cheng Ho, now Zheng He was a complete mystery, and Mike’s knowledge of history had missed this “by a country mile.” It did not take a long time to start piecing things together.

After months of researching the history of the treasure fleets, he absolutely knew paintings of this historical event had to be attempted. Even though there seemed to be few images even remotely resembling the baochauns, written measurements, descriptions, and Ming Dynasty drawings of smaller ships or boats, painting these treasure ships could make for a more than educated guess.

A friend of Mike’s, Mary Ridgway, is an ardent admirer of things Asian and was a terrific idea person and sounding board for discussion concerning decoration of the treasure ships. After looking at a number of references they agreed the ships were probably not painted but retained their natural wood colors. Two renderings from China show the old Chinese red on the upper portion of the hull above the main deck. It looked good and Mike went with these colors.

References tell of the big ships having nine masts and twelve sails. Mike’s guess was that the main masts had two sails each as they would have been much easier to raise and lower. However, he believes there may have been several types of sail rigging. Time will tell as lost documents are found and artifacts unearthed. Sail and rigging technology could have very well changed in the seven voyages.

The paintings are casein–one of the artist’s favorite mediums. Much to Mike’s delight, Jack Richeson and Company of Kimberly, Wisconsin, purchased the trade name “Shiva” and have restored casein to its former glory and quality.

For Mike Boss, other subjects will appeal to his artistic sense, but he is quite certain Zheng He and the treasure fleets will be sailing around in his mind and on his canvases for some time to come.