Robert Rasche’s painting “Alice S. Wentworth, The Old Mile Road, Wells, Maine” depicts a 19th century schooner docked at an old wharf located very near where his body was found. Photo courtesy of Robin Barnard

Since childhood Robert “Bob” Rasche loved being on or near the water in Wells, a passion displayed throughout his life as a painter who often combined his artistic skill and love of history to capture maritime themes.

On Saturday, Rasche, 61, a full-time resident of Bellingham, Massachusetts, was found dead in the Webhannet River, slightly below the Mile Road near Wells Harbor. How Rasche died has yet to be determined and the case is under investigation by the Maine Marine Patrol.

Robert Rasche Photo courtesy of Robin Barnard

Family members said they know Rasche returned from a day trip on his 21-foot sailboat named Avalon on Friday afternoon, dropped a passenger off at the dock, and was last seen traveling away from the dock, presumably toward his boat mooring.

“We don’t really know what happened,” said Rasche’s brother-in-law Kevin Barnard of Wells. “The way the sail was set, he was probably motoring and working his way to the mooring and apparently he ended up in the water somehow.”

Late Saturday morning, the Avalon was spotted unoccupied and adrift, prompting a rapid search response by air and boat from the Maine Marine Patrol, with assistance from several other agencies. Rasche’s body was recovered below Mile Road, near Wells Harbor. One of Rasche’s paintings is titled “Alice S. Wentworth, The Old Mile Road, Wells, Maine.” It depicts a 19th century schooner docked at an old wharf that was located very near where he was found.

“He grew up on a family house down on Wells Beach and summered here and he loved Wells more than anything,” Barnard said. “He loved sailboats and fishing.”

Rasche lived in Bellingham, located on the southwest portion of the Interstate 495 loop, with his wife Jan, a middle school teacher. When he was able to buy a sailboat, there was no question where the sailboat would spend its summers. Three of Rasche’s siblings and their families live in York County. Sisters Robin Barnard and Kathryn Andrews live in Wells. His brother Steve Rasche lives in York.

“I would call him fun-loving,” said his brother-in-law Eric Andrews. “Bob was very much a family person, very large-hearted, and a very caring individual. He was an artist for sure and a very talented artist.”

Rasche’s artwork is currently for sale at The Framer’s Workshop and Fine Art Gallery in Wells and The Maritime Gallery in Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. His work adorns the walls of numerous businesses and local restaurants in the Wells and Ogunquit area, along with many private collections.

“He was a wonderful artist; a fine-arts artist unquestionably in my mind and I have 46 years of experience,” said Claude Breton, the owner of The Framer’s Workshop. “That was his primary profession. He was a wonderful graphic artist as well.”

Many of Rasche’s works centered on the sea and marsh areas around Wells, evoking both the power and beauty of a coastline (“Moody Morning”) or the lush glow of a tidal river at sunset (“Moody Marsh”).

While capable of working in multiple genres, Rasche was especially passionate about historical nautical scenes. His process started with painstaking research to make sure his ships on canvas were accurate down to the last rigging.

“What I would say is, he will be missed in the art industry,” Breton said. “I’m also a painter, and I always had a lot of respect for his work. Bob was notorious for always thinking the painting was never quite completed. To him, he always searched for perfection and, you know, he was a fine artist and unfortunately not as recognized as he should have been over the years.”

Among his earliest professional works was a set of 16 limited-edition prints of New England coastal scenes, several set in Wells, completed while he was in high school and college and commissioned by the Sorrento Art Galleries of Kennebunkport.

Rasche’s painting of the historic battleship USS Constitution, known as Old Ironsides, is owned by the USS Constitution Museum, which received it in 1997.

“He was a very humble guy – probably not the best self-promoter – and down to earth,” Barnard said. “He just wasn’t that aggressive in that (marketing) area. … A lot of people know him around the neighborhood. He was a well-liked individual and just a gentle soul.”

The irony that Rasche died while on the water, doing something he loved, was not lost on family members.

“We have a shared beach house that’s kind of owned by the family. That was his residence when he came to Wells,” Barnard said. “He’d come up quite often, especially once he had his sailboat. He’d get up here any chance he could. He loved Maine more than anything.”

The Maine Marine Patrol began its search for a body at 11 a.m. Saturday after being notified that a sailboat was adrift in the Webhannet. At 2:30 p.m., Rasche was located by Marine Patrol Pilot Steve Ingram, who was doing air surveillance while the patrol vessel Impact searched the water around the boat.

Once recovered, his body was taken to shore and then transported to the state medical examiner’s office. Assisting in the search were the Wells Police Department, Wells Fire Department, Wells Ocean Rescue, Wells Harbormaster and the U.S. Coast Guard.

On Sunday, the cause of Rasche’s death had not yet been released by the medical examiner, according to Jeff Nichols, communications director for the Department of Marine Resources.

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