MARC CASTELLI / Querencia
October 29 – November 28
Gallery Hours: Thursday 11-2, Friday 11-4, Saturday 10-5
Marc Castelli’s annual show at MassoniArt has become a Downrigging tradition.
Expect to see unmatched renderings of watermen, workboats, and log canoes from a painter recognized as one of the finest marine artists in the country.
Marc & Phyllis Castelli have requested Querencia be dedicated to the memory of Albert Massoni.
*Querencia, (Spanish) a place from which one’s strength is drawn, where one feels at home;
the place where you are your most authentic self.
Marc Castelli describes the inspiration for each piece in his breathtaking new exhibit.
Ladder for the Chines
30 x 22
This could be called an unconscious tribute to the American painter Charles Sheeler. I have admired his work for many years. There are times when an unconscious reference to another artist’s work will show up while I am looking at images or even during the course of a painting.
It is the precise architectural work of Sheeler suggested by the ladder that is holding up the long strips of wood. These strips will eventually define the boat’s chine. The chine is a longitudinal edge determining the upper definition of the deadrise which is the angle from the keel to the chine. That is the line separating topsides from beneath. Imagine a triangle. These strips from the lower corner of the transom move slowly up to the bow of a deadrise workboat. In this case it is one being built by the Kinnamons of Tilghman Island. You can see the stem of the bow. The hulls of deadrise workboats are traditionally built upside down. Once completed the hull is then turned right side up. I shot this view because of the light pouring in from the open door of the shop. It has great shadows, a Sheeler like complex of relationships of shapes, lights and darks, spaces for brushwork, and it appeals to the abstract ideas running through much of my work.
A Lick’s Worth
22 X 30
Oysters are cascading down to the cull board from an oyster dredge. A lick is what some call a dredge worth of oysters. I had the good fortune to work with two watermen who would put out of Mt. Vernon to work on the Great Bar. In addition to accompanying watermen on their boats, I also work alongside them.
On oyster boats I can bring my TFL (Tidal Fishery License) oyster bushel limit to the boat to share with the men while I spend hours culling and taking pictures of them at work. I don’t take money for the work I get to enjoy and neither do they take any from me. Sometimes I would try to buy a bushel from them and they would just give me one or give me a dozen or two of oysters to take home. My “pay” is the opportunity to learn from them about oystering, their work, and hear great stories. It is also in the several hundred photos I will take during a full day of work. I want to spend the day working with them under the full arc of the sun. This picture is so strong with the repeated triangles and mirroring of effort contrasted with the textures of recently dredged up oysters. The soft light is from the incredibly dense fog in which we worked and also got lost in while trying to get home. That is a story for another day.
Ranger to Windward
21 ¾ X 30
J Class yachts. Hard to find the superlatives adequate enough to describe these wonderfully huge, gracefully powerful monsters with their elegantly classic lines. Phyllis and I had the good fortune to spend nearly two weeks with friends of mine who live on Hayling Island on the south coast of England.
They made arrangements for a group of us to go out and watch five of these yachts race on the turbulent waters of the Solent. The Solent is the body of water separating the southern coast of England from the Isle of Wight. It has been the scene for much of England’s early maritime battles and also many famous races such as the America’s Cup. In 1851 the first such challenge was held. These J Class yachts are “modern” day examples (from the early 20th Century) of the cumulative designs from over 150 years of racing. Lionheart was one of the defender designs that was discarded for the 1937 defense that Ranger won so decisively. These yachts were so expensive that after WW2 the rules governing the competition changed the class of yachts to the 12 Meter formula in order to enable more competitors to challenge. So, Ranger is actually to windward of Lionheart, you just can’t see her. The crew on board Lionheart is watching them, trying to anticipate the next move. There are so many kinds of light in this image. Direct light casting shadows, reflected light from the insides of sails, half-light in the shadows of the sails on the fore deck. My favorite passage is the one transitioning from the port stern up the deck toward the bow. So many different types of light. The Solent is green, especially when it is churned up by hundreds of spectator and patrol boats around the racers. The reflections of the yacht’s wake in her shiny wet topsides were also a major attraction for me to try my hand at.
January Fykes/Margaret Ann
22 X 30
Fyke nets are one of many systems used to catch fish. A very ancient system of leaders, hearts, and barrel. Up on the Chester River they are used during the winter months and target perch, mainly yellow perch known as Yellow Ned, or Ring Perch. White perch are also harvested for the mid-west markets whose waters are usually frozen.
Perch have a big market in that region. Sports fishing organizations masquerading as conservation associations have become such a political power that they have denied Maryland watermen access to some of the productive rivers so that their constituents can enjoy a good fishing experience. They have also caused a reduced quota of yellow perch that had at one time been a money maker for watermen who did not oyster or gill net for rockfish during the winter months. Due to those regulations, fewer watermen now fish for yellow perch. Tagging and call in-call out regulations have created too much trouble. Yellow perch surveys back in the 90s did indicate a temporary need for such regulations. Subsequent surveys indicated a rebound and a level of sustainability that should have put an end to the reduced catch and then opened some of the rivers to commercial fishing again. Not so. Fykes are hard nets to work and the harsh winter weather doesn’t make it any easier. Once the nets have been emptied of their catch the fish are placed in tubs which are then delivered to the workboat where they are culled for keepers. The smalls and others with no commercial value are returned to the waters alive. In this image the father on the family’s boat is awaiting such a delivery. While he culls, the small boat which can operate in shoal waters leaves for the next set of fykes. The Mannings have been successfully working the Chester River for several generations, and I am most fortunate that they let me go out with them, work alongside, and take photos of them. Many will wonder why it is that I very rarely ever include the names on the workboats I paint. There is something about the way that the human brain gets caught up in the pattern of letters. Once trapped by that regularity of shapes it no longer explores the rest of an image. There is so much to look at in pictures that having a viewer stop at the lettering of names can render the painting nearly pointless. Also, some people want to know the name of the boat. If such a person doesn’t know that boat then the whole image becomes non sequitur. So, I prefer to have the image more important than having the viewer know whose boat it is.
20 X 30
Three years ago, I was approached by the Star Boat World Championship committee to produce some artwork to be used for trophies and publicity. This was part of an effort to increase the visibility of the Eastern Shore in the international yacht racing community. The races were held out on the Chesapeake Bay just off the mouth of the Tred Avon, on which Oxford sits.
I was also onboard to help out in any way I could. I did not charge the committee for anything created from artwork other than some of the prints made for trophies and a poster. The understanding was also that I be provided with a photo/chase boat from which I could take photos of the races for one day. Did I ever luck out on the day I went! For the two previous days there were no winds. The day I went there were great winds, incredible skies, and nearly 70 Star boats and crews participating. The action at the starts and marks was jammed with clean white boats and sails with only numbers and country abbreviations on them. The repeated shapes of a one design class made for great compositions composed of geometries contrasted with waters disturbed by boats crowding in on each other as they approached and rounded the marks. There were no log canoe races held during the summer of the first year of the pandemic. That was the first time the canoes had not raced since WW2. I missed that as it would have been my 30th year of racing on them. There are no log canoe images in this show. So, I went back to the J Class and the Star Boats for images from which to paint.
Dry’n Em Up
There is a point in the process of fishing a pound net that the fish have been worked closer to the larger workboat in order to dip the fish from the net and then dump them on the cull board for sorting. A poundnet is an amazing window into just how many types of estuary life there is in the bay and its tributaries.
I have seen sea trout, Spanish mackerels, black drum, puppy drum, hard heads, carp, grass carp, wall eyes, spot, pompanos, horseshoe crabs and blue crabs, sea turtles and all other manner of turtles (none of which you can keep) just to name a few. If the fish are of legal size and there is market then they are kept. If not then they are returned ALIVE back to the water. That is not to say that fish don’t ever die in a pound net. Old age, trapped in bad water, hard weather, stress are all factors that can cause mortality. But by-catch mortality is far, far, less than let’s say a fishing tournament. Which if you have ever been on the waters of the bay during a tournament you will see hundreds of rock fish killed by “conservationists” while in pursuit of the largest tournament winner fish. An abattoir if you will. That, is an issue for another painting. In this one you see two watermen, a father and a son, working hard to get the fish closer to their workboat in order to better gather them up. Sometimes called “Drying them up.” It is hard physical work. If the water is warm and even saltier like it can be in mid and late summer, there can be a lot of sea nettles which get splattered on our faces and arms as the fish thrash about while we cull.
Sounding Poles for Now/Southern Miss/Grace Creek
22 X 30
P.T. Hambleton’s of Bozman is a very successful sea food buyer. He buys directly from watermen and has done so for many years. One of my first (1995) eastern shore paintings is of workboats at the docks there. 0ver the past three oysters seasons I have had the luck to oyster with Tyrone Meredith and Lamont Pollard, both Kent Islanders, out of P.T.’s.
I usually get there before them and get to watch a lot of great sunrises come up Grace Creek. Many are spectacular, finger of God things. Some mornings, the water is so very flat and calm the reflections can be remarkable. The morning in this painting is one such beautifully calm morning. The boat, Southern Miss, is a classic down bay workboat with a plumb stem, low cabin and doghouse, with a deep sheer rising sharply to the bow. They have bigger seas down that way. It is oyster season, some of the poles on the boats are shafts awaiting heads or rakes to be attached. Some of the poles are sounding poles. These are used to reach for the bottom and feel for oysters. If there are oysters below the boat you can “hear” them with the poles, and then you know that might just be a good spot to try. It seems of late that I have been painting a lot more tree lined shorelines. There are a lot of summer houses on Grace Creek. Just one more reminder of the increasing human presence on this shore. I did paint one but did not want it conflicting with the cabin of the boat so it got pushed back under the trees.
Obviously, a Keeper
19 X 30
The crew that runs the oyster boat I have been on is comprised of black watermen from Kent Island. They work out of P.T. Hambleton’s on Grace Creek, Bozman. Tyrone Meredith’s father was Eldridge Meredith the most recent Admiral of the Chesapeake. An honorary title recognizing contributions to the culture of the Bay and also environmental actions to clean the Bay.
Eldridge created the fishing party portion of the business and his wife ran the Meredith Sea Food Business and restaurant on the island. Their children grew up on the boats and joined the business at various times of their lives. The boats, Island Queen (retired) and the current Island Queen II, are from Kent Island but will travel far and wide to provide a one-day fishing experience. Head boats are called that because the customers pay individually as contrasted to charter boats who pay by the group. In this image the culler is also the mate from the Island Queen II. I have been head-boating with them for a few years now. We all enjoy each other’s company, sense of humor and candid outlooks about people in general. No subtext to our conversations. Just outright honesty and always flavored with good humor. In this painting T-Bone is tossing a legal size (3” and larger”) oyster into the bucket for market at P.T. Hambleton’s. The oyster hammer has a 3” measure on it. That helps separate the keepers from the smalls. Towards the end of some past seasons the oysters are so close in size to legal or not, that a lot of time is spent measuring. Slow, grinding, repetitive work and back breaking from standing at the cull board for hours. I am not able to sit and take pictures as people around me work. I have to get right into it. The payoff is that I get to live what I paint and have done so for 26 years.
Working the Shear Line/The Gowe Girls
22 X 30
The title is a double entendre on sheer and shear. Hand tongers usually will work from the decks, which on a workboat are usually called the washboards. Every creek and river that has watermen will have differing names for boat parts, the way they work, and even names for what they catch. The sheer line is the longitudinal line defining the curve of the deck.
The Shear part of the pun is what some hand tongers call the back-and-forth “shearing” action across an oyster bar. The watermen will put out weights, more often than not, old very heavy crankshafts which slow the boat’s shearing in the tides and currents. Norman Gowe is 74 years old and can get right on to the oysters as his wife told me one time. I know this from personal experience. He could tong them faster than I could keep up. He usually works by himself, and he is used to stepping back down from the washboards to cull a fully loaded cull board. I would awkwardly try to keep up and would watch him while he culled. He always had an oyster or two in the air on their way to the bushel basket. All watermen will tell you the way to keep from getting behind was to always keep an oyster in the air. That must have been in the days when you did not have to measure each and every one of them. I have to admit that after several hours of culling I started to tell which ones were three inches and which ones might need measuring. Mother Nature has recently seen fit to give the Bay great conditions for spat sets, add to that the pandemic which relieved some of the harvest pressure by nearly closing the oyster markets, and then include the very good stock assessments, and the watermen seem to hope for another great oyster season. Though the cruelest god is the god of the counted chicken. Hopefully the idiots that prefer to define themselves by their politics rather than defining themselves by their love for their families and respect for others will finally get scared enough to get the damn shots. Then the weird pandemic induced reduced oyster and fish markets will settle down. I managed to get in just a few days during the March 2020 to March 2021 Covid exile. Every waterman I worked with got his shots, out of his love for his family and children. Norman is one very fine waterman and has also built a boat or two. The Gowe Girls is one.
22 X 23 ½
There is a family that has worked the Chester River for three generations. Good solid people with one hell of a work ethic. I spend a lot of time with such families. Maybe it is because they represent a reach back in time and the realities of today and vagaries, then add in the guarded hopes they have for their futures in the business.
Ten years ago, many watermen were trying to shoo their sons off the water and away from the business. Many just kept saying the business wouldn’t last another ten years. Some still say that. The jobs in the outside world available for their skill sets were not there and they came home. And yet again the business of harvesting sea food to feed people is still going. In spite of the well-meaning efforts of foundations, associations, and other programs that still keep the hysteria-tea-pot boiling with half-truths, denial of the facts, and an odd subtext that doesn’t want a commercial fishery in the Bay and its tributaries. These two watermen are brothers working at stretching out the barrel of a fyke net that they have just fished. Their twisted-by-effort bodies tell the story of their labors. This time of year, winter, they are trying to catch the river’s quota of yellow perch and then add in white perch and catfish for which there is no quota. It is hard, hard work. I am constantly amazed at their always present smiles and laughs as they work. This the same family, the Mannings, mentioned in the text for the painting, January Fykes.
22 X 30
Johnny Kinnamon and his son, J.C., built boats for years out of a small building on the left of the road taking you to the Knapps Narrows drawbridge to Tilghman Island. For years I would drive by and see workboats on blocks or trailers alongside the building and make a mental note to stop in sometime. I hate being perceived as a tourist. Recently an introduction was made for me to this family who have built over 300 mainly workboats.
I truly regret those years of not stopping in. As the samurai were fond of saying, “To know and not to act is not to know.” Something I am getting better at. By the time I managed to make the acquaintance of Johnny Kinnamon Sr. he was building what was to be his own boat. Though several people had bought his “last boat” a few times. Despite being handed blanks to pay for it, this one did become his own boat. He named her The Bourbon Street Lady. I had and still have a lot of questions for him and his son. Sometimes they were dumb questions out of the deep well of my ignorance. One time I apologized to J.C. for my many questions and for the ignorance of them. He told me, “That’s okay, dumb answers are still free.” This painting is of the bow of this workboat at the knuckle where the stem meets the keel. Workboat hulls are traditionally built upside down. Once a hull is completed it is then turned right-side up for finishing. Rolling them over was once a task for several watermen and friends to do. The boat is drawn out of the building, then a heavy-duty boom truck with ropes and chains lifts the boat up and rolls it onto its sides and then it’s lifted once more to be set onto boat stands and cinder blocks. Then later to be placed on a trailer and put back into the building. I did not ever get to see the old-time way of doing this and regret not seeing and documenting the sense of community and friendship that were such moments. Could have made for some good paintings, too. This view of the frames as they come forward to the stem reminded me of the part to a roof of a gothic cathedral, particularly the part called the apse. Look it up.
She Didn’t Like Mornings
22 X 30
Old diesel engines get to be somewhat cranky after hundreds of hours of running. Sometimes seals wear down and moisture gets into a fuel line producing a blue smoke when first started up. These times are never convenient for watermen. Such repairs, maintenance, or replacements usually mean taking the engine out of the boat.
If you are in the midst of a certain fishing season and have but one boat from which to work, then you are effectively shut down. That means you are not making money but are spending money and time. This painting is of a day or so before this boat was pulled to have the engine replaced. Many watermen prefer using older engines that are fairly easy to work on when compared to the electronic, complicated computer nightmares that pass for marine diesels these days. Times are changing many things that they have come to depend on. A waterman will believe that many of these changes are dreamed up by “experts” that have never had to depend on the affected machines to earn a living. Some changes have been for the good. Many workboats now use LED lights to help see in the very early morning hours of their days. These lights are exceptionally bright. For me, as a photographer seeking subject material for paintings of these men at work, the lights have given me several more hours that I can take decent photos of the early hours in which these men start their days and work. This morning, the blueish engine smoke from a reluctant in the lights of the boat silhouetting the waterman, and the bow of the bateau struck me as worthy of a capture effort. It worked.
22 X 30
Pound nets can be fished anytime of the day. Usually, the mornings are the best as the nets have been catching fish all night. If you wait too long you will find that many fish are smart enough to see the openings of the funnel as the way out and will escape. I fished with just Sam for several years and then later with Sam and his father, Robbie, for many years.
Robbie had worked the water for most of his life and then left it to work for ten years or so as a patrol boat captain for the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Many watermen from the upper bay find work at the proving grounds. Their local knowledge is priceless. This left his more than capable son to find his own way. Robbie would tell me that he taught Sam everything Sam knew, but he did not teach him everything Robbie knew. Sam got so successful the father left the patrol job and came back to fishing poundnets. Sam learned things his father had not and would eventually grow to appreciate. Being so close to them, it was an interesting dynamic to watch. Things change for reasons unknown to me. I haven’t been fishing with them in nearly a year and in all probability won’t ever again. It makes painting from the thousands of photos I took for over ten years of enjoying each other’s stories trusts, company, sharing hard times, helping each other out when needed, rather poignant. The Japanese have a phrase for it. Mono no aware. Look it up. The years of shooting thousands of photos of these men and the many others who welcome me on to their boats makes my work personal. This familiarity has expanded my willingness to shoot a lot more pictures of things that could be very difficult to paint. My wife Phyllis has seen this expansion and commented that I now seem to be collecting photographs also. Quite true. The morning portrayed in this watercolor had no clouds to break or soften the sunrise. I wanted to see how the camera would record the sun on the deck, the reflection of the waterman, and the sky through the negative shapes created by the arms as he secured the topline of the net to the boat. The moment captured by the limitations of the camera gave me the chance to interpret the incredible reds around the sun. Then the subsequent lights on the sleeves, white coat, and the reflecting wet washboards. There were many places for definition, detail, and areas for the watercolor to be watercolor without the burden of context.
I Can See Russia from Here
22 X 30
The Soviets and then the Russians used to vacation at a compound at the mouth of the Corsica River on the Chester River. I called it ‘Little Sochi on the Corsica’. That was until the Russians decided to interfere with our presidential elections on behalf of the Republican party candidates.
Then President Obama closed down the compound and denied the use of it to the Russians. It is still closed. There was once a vice presidential candidate from Alaska who claimed she had some expertise in foreign policy. She claimed that being a neighbor of Canada and that she could see Russia from her porch gave her sufficient insights into foreign policy to be a good candidate. She also claimed that the country of Africa was important to our national interests. Too bad that geography is no longer taught in secondary schools. So…Whenever I crab with a close friend of mine off the Corsica River, we say that we can see Russia from here. This day of crabbing was fairly good. I have always liked the geometries of baskets, boat lines, gear, and other parts.
Some Days Are Larger Than Life
22 X 30
There are days when for some reason you are on the crab. Most watermen will tell you that if you are on the crab, you are a day late. There are three things they will tell you that they definitely know about crabs. 1.They come. 2. They go. 3. They bite. Crabbing is a constantly challenging contest with the crabs usually winning. And then there are some days larger than life.
Those days you are on the crab and are glad to see them and be alive and on the water chasing the crab. Wayne Wilson, is a waterman with whom I have worked for many years. We used to oyster before his health had him retire, so we now crab a lot. He is one of the funniest and quickest with a retort people I have ever known. I am hoarse after days of crabbing with him from constantly talking and laughing. I usually get to cull the crabs. They always seem most interested in maiming you if you aren’t carefully watching as you reach into the box to cull. There are #1s, 6 inches from tip to tip, some call them Jimmies, it also helps to have them hard and with two biters. Next are, #2s, which are smaller than 6 inches but larger than the minimum legal size of 5 ¾ inches. Lastly there are the females. Those are called sooks or biddies. They have to have the capitol dome shape on their aprons below. If the shape is still a triangle, the watermen call them “V” bellies, those get tossed back. They can be kept just certain times of the year. If one looks and feels like a peeler the waterman will look at the ring on the outside edge of a crab’s certain swimmer fin. If it is red, then it is getting ready to shed and is worth keeping to tend for the soft-shell market. I watched crabs molting and shedding their previous shell, one very early summer morning on Tangier Island. Most crabbers down that way tend peelers as they are worth a lot when they shed. It can be wives or daughters that will tend them in the very early hours. If the crabs have just shed, they are then carefully scooped up as they are quite soft and then neatly arranged in special boxes to be left on the dock for picking up later. If you put such a crab in the water its shell will harden and you no longer have a soft crab which could be worth anywhere from 80 cents to a dollar. Soft-crabs are a much sought-after delicacy on the bay. If you catch a crab after it has shed it will be larger than it was before. Hard to imagine that larger newer body existed in that smaller one but it did. Getting to watching that larger crab back out of its previous shell is as close to a miracle as you’ll ever see. Mother Nature has wired the crab right and tight. In the wild the now larger crab has to grow into its new carapace. They are usually a brighter green almost pale and their underbellies are very white. These are called paper shells and if you squeeze them just right and the shell dimples under the pressure you have a paper shell and should throw it back. After a shed, one usually catches paper shells up in the creeks, but not so often out in the river’s main stems. In a week or two it will not only be larger but heavier, hard, and worth more money. Some keep paper shells and sell them for less than what a normal #1 would go for. Not too far sighted or patient. This watercolor is of bushel baskets. I have always been drawn to the textures, shapes, and colors of bushel baskets. New ones are almost blonde. Others are a dull orange made even deeper from the moisture. There is so much reflected light in their shadows. Some of them come from Colorado, Texas, Arkansas and Virginia. Yet they are all serve the same function. This watercolor is of a stack of full bushels of crabs. A full bushel will have the top wired on right side up. A piece of a bushel will have the top upside down to indicate a partial. Corresponding numbers are usually written on the tops. I have of late been drawing very involved decorations around the numbers. No one has complained. Yet. A bushel of crabs has to be 45 lbs. or so the buyer will tell you. 5 pounds are what they tell you is the weight of the basket. Somewhere in the mix a waterman loses 5 lbs. to the buyer.
I Sing the Widow Maker Blues
22 X 30
Normally I am not a gestural painter as the sky in this painting would suggest. But I had this great shot of a hand tonger from Kent Island. The sky in the photo did not work for me. I did carry the image of the hand tonger around in my head for a week or so before I figured that I wanted to put in a different sky with clouds that emphasize the framing of the hand tongs.
The original sky would have emphasized the flatness of the picture plane almost pushing it into the face of the picture plane. So… I put on some Benny Goodman, stood up and let not only the music move me (as Grover would say) but also pushed the brush instead of stroking it. Almost dancing in the privacy of my studio. I had been watching this oysterman while I was culling in a boat close by to his. His boat’s name is Miss Yolanda. When my family and I moved to Chestertown in 1995 I had several opportunities to go out that Fall in a small Boston Whaler and shoot pictures of hand tongers on the Chester River. That was before the oyster sanctuary movement had confiscated the river’s oyster bars. Only to leave them over the many years bereft of any active management. But that is a story for another painting. Back then I had painted a watercolor of the men on Miss Yolanda hand tonging for oysters. And here it is 26 years later, and I am still photographing and painting them at work. Widow makers are what some watermen have called hand tongs. This particular oysterman closed his eyes as he listened to the oysters in the rakes as they were being “fluffed” up for a grab. I imagined him humming a song to himself as he worked. Hence the title.
Stems and Seeds
30 X 22
On Grace Creek there are or, should I say there were, houses owned by watermen, some for generations. These boats are on the water in front of a house still owned by a waterman. He has invested in these boats to use as oyster seed boats for planting shell and seed-on-shell on Public Shellfish Areas (PSFAs). That activity is important to the self-sustainability of the public oyster industry.
Contracts for planting also send these boats to plant on sanctuaries also. It is after all a business with expenses. I was mainly interested in the near mirror-like reflections of the repeated shapes and almost color-field abstractions of the bows of these boats. The title is from my days in college during the late 60s and early 70s while studying for my degree in Fine Art, and Russian Revolutionary History and Japanese Feudal History, at the University of Colorado. When we got down to the last bits and pieces of a bag of pot, we would say that we were down to the stems and seeds. Boat stems and oyster seeds. Get it?
30 X 22
I have been fishing pound nets for many years now. While the basic work is the same, the conditions are rarely ever the same. In that time, I have found many things to photograph during the work. On the Sassafras River the work begins quite early usually as the sun is breaking the horizon and its light slams into anything standing up. In the Fall of the year there are leaves aplenty caught in the nets.
Sometimes there are so many that they are dipped up along with the fish and the whole mix is dropped on the cull board. There would be rock fish, channel catfish, blue gills, pumpkin seeds, and crappie all mixed in with maple, oak, and beech leaves. I have yet to get up enough nerve to paint that yet. Soon. In this instance I just could not get over the nearly mirror-like reflections of the light and net in the early sunlight. I shoot everything. I really do not have an agenda, as that blinds me to the many opportunities for such pictures. For several years when plumbing my files for subject matter, I would come across this image and just think what a great shot. The pandemic gave me a lot of time I usually don’t have to sit down and work on some complicated watercolors like this one. Yes, I did paint around each piece of net and leaves in case you were wondering. Had to, as they were so illuminated by that wonderful light. I had to leave those spaces white in order for the paper to keep the colors bright. Some might say this piece is decorative. So, what.
30 X 22
White oil skins are so interesting. The way they reflect light, colors and how the light is reflected inside the shadows on them is fascinating. In this case the LED lights, mentioned in an earlier essay, bounced off the engine box and spilled over the waterman as he tied the topline of the crib to the boat in order to dip the fish out and place them on the cull board.
The reflections of light in the shadows and the almost pearlescent coloring of the oil skins took a lot of translucent glazes to capture. For years the challenge of painting Chesapeake Bay workboats and log canoes was to consider just how many colors you could use to paint a known white subject and still have it read as white. Technically the real issue was to refrain from hitting the darks too hard and let the light areas remain in the light. Painting is a process of constantly redefining the relationships of all shapes in the overall composition without detracting from the overall flow but contributing to it. Almost like friendships and acquaintances.
30 X 22
Having spent so many years around pound nets I began to see and include the many things other than the men at work. The interaction of water, light and reflections of the parts of a pound net became as equally interesting.
The shape in this image is a pound net pole reflected in the water. I have hundreds of such shots almost all made different by the conditions of light, sky and water. For such a seemingly simple subject, it is the water and its constantly cupping and spreading of light that demanded a lot of attention. There is a part of me that sees the abstract in such images. That part found some time during the pandemic to speak out.
30 X 22
This is yet another pound net pole reflected in the water. Its shape reminded me of Uighar calligraphy. The Uighurs are an older portion of the Chinese multi-ethnic nation. But they are a Muslim minority and are now being systematically wiped out by the Chinese government. Their culture is rich and had a calligraphy once known as “running grass.” The reflection reminded me of examples of this calligraphy I saw when studying the Chinese in college.
Parting ways – Lionheart- Rainbow
30 X 22
J Class Yachts! Wow! The enormous scale of them is readily apparent when looking at the bowmen on each yacht. They are there to keep the skipper aware of things in front of them. Each yacht in this image is on a different tack.
Sometimes I have to simply appreciate the fact that there are extremely wealthy people in the world who can afford to build, staff, and crew such machines while suspending any judgment about where the money could be “better” spent. These yachts and their lines, that speak to a different time of racing, are magnificent to watch, to listen to the water hissing as they sail by, and then watch the muscles and tendons that are the crew manhandle the sails. Rainbow was a very successful defender of the Cup back in the 1930s. I have already written about Lionheart in Ranger to Windward. But I am not fond of having to rise to the challenge of painting the 3DL sails with their stress load contours. Still, having been able to see them and share that spectacle with my wife and close friends is a great memory, still providing many inspirations from which to paint and draw.
Leaving Grace Creek/Gentle Breeze
30 X 22
The Benton family from Deal Island were oystering out of P.T. Hambleton’s on Grace Creek. One morning I was waiting for the guys from Kent Island to show up, which sometimes they didn’t or would show up late. Either way the men who were oystering did eventually get used to my being there with my gear and cameras.
I got to talking with Andrew Benton’s father who is on the left of this picture, Andrew is on the right. His father confused me with young, upstart photographer which lit me up. Anyway, I told him by no means was I that person, and I could help him remember that. The next morning, I brought a framed painting of him and his son oystering, from an earlier show, and left it for him in the office. A couple of mornings later he caught up to me on the dock and thanked me for it and told me I was welcome to get out with them anytime. He also told me he had given the painting to his son, Andrew, who promptly hung it over the fireplace in his home on the island. So, one morning the guys from Kent left me waiting on the dock. Not looking forward to an hour or so return trip home to Chestertown empty handed I asked Andrew if I could get out with him and his mate Tucker Harrison. They made me more than welcome and even asked me If I had gloves. Which meant they expected me to work. I always carry my own gear with me. Hot damn was I happy I had worked up enough nerve to ask. That was the start of a very good friendship that to this day keeps us in touch through all of the pandemic difficulties and new boat for Andrew. By the way his father is a minister on Deal Island, too.
26 ½ X 30
All in all, a very simple image made complicated by the activities of the figures. Sometimes the early morning light which can be harsh and brilliant is softened by fog. As a watercolor painter it is somewhat of a technical breather because the background is so very light with soft colors that subjects and attendant details can be easily painted over the background without losing any colors or shades.
I have appreciated and taken a lot of such shots of the father and son working the nets as they have for a couple of decades. Time and time again I have taken their pictures in all manner of weather and conditions. The postures of shared work became the message. I had recently finished reading the Isaacson biography of da Vinci. It was the artist’s posing of figures with their bodies twisting one way while looking in another direction that successfully created motion and tension. I have learned so much from that well written and beautifully printed book. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
The Forever Crab
22 X 30
It seemed like forever to draw and paint this crab. There are many details of the carapace, with its varying surfaces, subtle shifts in color, translucent claw legs, swimmers, all served up in the geometries of the dipper. Those linear elements draw you into the picture to confront this large male crab.
I am not sure I can find anything simple in this world to paint anymore. Not sure I would want to. If it’s a crowded composition with many relationships to adjust or a deceptively simple composition with few items to resolve, I can find all manner of relationships involving light, reflected light, silhouetted or fully lit surfaces, shadows within shadows and such. I spend a lot of time trotlining for crabs on either the Chester River or the Choptank. It is interesting to note that crab buyers south of the Bay bridge won’t buy crabs caught in a dipper such as the one in this painting. So, they prefer the watermen to use a small hand dipper tied to the boat up forward while the crabber stands a bit further aft catching the crabs as the trotline comes up and over the roller. They just might be right in the case of really longer trotlines. Takes a long time to run lines that long and the first crabs caught end up in the bottom of the bag and might get damaged from the other crabs being pushed on to them by the water. Some watermen up this way use rather long lines. Some prefer to lay out two lines of shorter length that can be combined to make a longer one if necessary. I have to admit personally that I have yet to see a drowned crab come up in the dipper. In fact, the crabs are usually quite irritated when it comes time to dump them out in the cull box.
14 X 30
Beautiful October Chesapeake Bay Day. Incredible one design class of sail boats competing for a world championship, most of them all white with all white sails and no NASCAR like sponsorships splayed all over their sails, hulls and clothes. There were nearly 70 Star Boats racing that day.
An incredible repetition of shapes all involved in the same activity. Amazing shapes interacting with the water, especially in the turbulence at the marks. What a treat to have my own driver and photo boat supplied by the sponsoring organization in exchange for producing artwork used for trophies and posters. I will probably paint from this regatta for several more years to come.
Light at The Boiler
12 ½ X 30
There are mornings when the western sky is dark with the promise of weather past or to come. Yet, the eastern horizon is free of clouds and the light just streams beneath the clouds to slam into the western darkness. As it comes raking across the earth, it piles into anything standing up.
The Boiler is a pound net site on the lower reaches of the Sassafras River. It is named that because the charts indicate a sunken boiler in the waters. Not sure from where it came. This waterman, Robbie Joiner was working the crib and its fish, probably channel catfish and rock fish, (though skin fish and scale fish do not like each other) closer to the big boat, in order to be dipped out for culling. He and his white oil skins were thoroughly illuminated by the light as he interrupted its westward race. I find these mornings so magical and enervating that I probably shoot several hundred images of damn near anything catching the light especially in contrast to a darker background. It is the pleasure of seeing and shooting that at times is exceptional.
The Food Bank is Open
12 ½ X 30
Pound nets catch fish. Birds like gulls, terns, cormorants, osprey, and blue herons have somewhat modified their behavior over the many years to include fish caught in nets. Some mornings it seems as if each and every pole in the set has a bird of some sort perched on it. Some, especially the blue herons, seem to have more patience for the human presence and wait longer to watch.
They even move about on the nets and poles to get a better seat from which to watch for any culls that are tossed overboard. Sure, these nets catch fish and some of them die. That might be from old age, stress from bad waters (caused by humans). As Clint Eastwood said in the movie, Outlaw Josie Wales, “worms got to eat too.” BUT these nets are not the killing machines that some in the sports fishing world will constantly try to make you believe. In this watercolor you can see herons and osprey. I am finding the long and narrow composition is at times more reflective of the scene than a more traditional rectangular shape. Also, these pieces of paper are what is left over after I fit a modified composition to the manufactured size of a piece of paper. I don’t like wasting paper and these shapes are more than willing to lend themselves to such compositions.
13 ½ X 30
The culture of the Eastern Shore is not made up of just farmers, watermen, boaters and sail boat racers. The region has been famous for many years for its horses. There are many quite famous hunters, racers, and eventing horses that have come from this shore. In recent years I have become fascinated with the horses and competitors in the world of eventing.
Through some generous folks in the log canoe world, I have been enabled to watch and shoot cross country, dressage, and arena jumping. In Chestertown a good friend has kept me in the loop when there was to be a fox chase. One of my favorite English painters of equestrian subjects is Alfred J. Munnings. Some of his painting of horses and riders are very evocative of the speed, conditions, and action in races and hunting. I have read the first two volumes of his biography, waiting for the third to surface sometime so I can finish the read. This image is in the morning light somewhat harsher than late afternoon light. Fox hunts are more accurately fox chases are still quite frequent on this shore. It would seem that despite the damages fox can do to farmers, public opinion about hunting fox with hounds isn’t acceptable. Every now and then when you are out driving you can see the riders following the hounds as they chase the scent. In this image you can see the recently launched hounds leaping as they run, their ears are up, and one can sense their excitement to be about their business. The horses’ ears are pricked forward with interest. In the background can be seen trailers, the treelined edges of fields, and the rest of the hunt as they set out. The crowd of riders in their black coats and hats, and the many legs of the horses supporting the crowd shape, punctuated by the occasional red coat (called Pinks) make for a lively composition. As an artist and photographer, I find this a compelling dynamic. Once more I found the long and narrow shape far more conducive to the activity, and I also like the way it compresses your attention to the subject.
One for Johnny, One for Mary, One for Me
9 ½ X 30
Johnny Kinnamon, is a well-known boat builder on Tilghman Island and who I am lucky to have become close friends with over the past two or three years. He and his son, J.C., are quite patient with me and my questions and share a lot of their personal knowledge about their customers and the dead rise workboats they build for them.
I got a call from Johnny one day, and he swore me to secrecy and asked me to stop down to his shop just on the mainland side of Knapps Narrows. I could not tell Mary Kellogg who with her husband Hall are the main stays of the Tilghman Island Watermen’s Museum (of which I am now a board member). Johnny, who will tell you he is not a decoy carver, decided to try his hand at it. He just wanted to make what he calls, and others will too, working decoys. Not the overly detailed and meticulously painted decoys that so many make these days. While they are quite beautiful, and I have received a few as gifts over the years, it is the working decoys that hold the most appeal for me. Johnny wanted me to paint the decoys as he tried to say that he wanted a “real artist” to do the work. I was flabbergasted at the request. Having never painted such an object it was an unnerving request. Friendship overcame the difficulty and the fact that he really wanted just a simple color scheme to reflect that of a canvas back duck. Besides, one can always paint over any mistakes. Which he did after I left one afternoon! I went down to visit and help out with the project keeping the purpose of my trips secret from Hall and Mary. He had made one for Mary, one for himself, and one for me. So touched was I and still am. I had him sign them and he had me sign them. We then took one over to give to Mary. That made for a wonderful photo of the two. Good, solid people who are close friends who have shared so much time, their hearts, and friendship with me. I hope that Carla Massoni will forgive me for wanting to exhibit something so cliché as a watercolor of these three decoys. My original title was, Moe, Larry and Curly.
9 ½ X 30
There is a tern perched on almost each and every hedge or leader pole making up that part of a pound net set. They almost always face the wind. This morning light and the haze made for a rather luminous image.
I enjoyed the implied distance created by the device of less sharp poles receding to the distant shore end of the hedge. It is the hedge that encourages the fish to turn from shore and follow it to deeper waters. The deeper waters are where the hearts and crib will eventually trap the fish. Fish will go to deeper waters when they panic. Some have said that this doesn’t seem fair. I have to remind them that this is not sports or recreational fishing where sharp barbed hooks will catch, maim, and get swallowed by fish legal or not. This type of fishing is for feeding people, not sport. I find a certain grace in this pound net set and the conditions of early morning light in the soft haze and the poles punctuated by the birds.
Transition/ Brandy Love
7 ½ X 30
Fog! No horizon. No shoreline. Usually, calm water with wake torn reflections. Deceptively simple. Wonderful to see.
Headed Home/ No Passing
8 X 30
This is the companion piece to Headed Out. Late afternoon light raking across the fields lining the road out near Chino Farms. People are riding and talking in small groups as they ride back to the starting point. Once more the groups are punctuated by the “Pinks” of the red coats.
The dogs, whoops, I mean hounds, are tired from their exertions. Tongues hanging out. Tails dragging and less excitement in their postures. But everyone is satisfied with the day. No Passing refers to the two parallel yellow lines painted in the road down which they are returning. These two paintings encouraged me to seriously discover ways to paint trees. A lot of textures to define the location. Hard to find a place in them to stop venturing into near encyclopedic rendering.
Trust and Hope
8 X 30
These two men are hand tonging from a down bay barcat. This type of Chesapeake Bay workboat is usually for scraping for crabs in the shoal waters around Smith and Tangier Islands. They have little freeboard to help reduce the repeated labor of having to physically lift by hand the scrapes up and out of the waters.
The state of Virginia disallows the use of hydraulics for such work. It believes that by not allowing the use of hydraulics to assist, the harvest will not be as thorough as it could be and also less damaging to the SAVs (subaquatic vegetations). Though the later reasoning was disproved by many years of aerial SAV surveys and silenced the Save-the-Bayers on that point. Small victories. Barcats are handsome watercraft with a strong, deep sheer line and wide beams for room to work. In the summers the waters further out from around these two islands can be quite rough with long swells and chop on top. But crab scraping is done in shallower waters close to the islands. One rarely sees them on the winter waters. I was rather amazed to see these two watermen working from such a boat, especially using it from which to hand tong. They hoped for oysters to justify their trust in the boat.
22 X 15
Hand tongs have a set of rakes at the bottom end of the shafts. These are opened and closed in a scissoring motion by the watermen to not only feel for oysters but also for the edge of the bar. There are various types of heads or rakes. Some are rather full shaped called eel pots and others flat and shallow.
The barrel in the title refers to the barrel shape of the closed heads resting on a water washed cull board. The boat is also used for oyster diving and has water heaters and pumps to feed lines to try and keep the diver warm in the winter waters. But we were culling for a hand tonger this day. As a culler it is a real nice benefit to have warm water to wash off the mud while culling and helps keep the hands a little bit warmer through the day. For me as an artist/culler it also had the added benefit of a smooth metal cull board reflecting the tongs as the flow moved across a clean surface. I enjoyed being able to use a minimalist palette. Somehow this reminds me of those fancy infinity pools you see in architectural magazines, but without the scantily clad swim suit model.
This Ain’t Corn Hole
22 X 15
The boat I get out on to trotline for crabs has a cull box with 2“ holes cut into the bottom. Those are the corn holes referred to in the title. These holes are the same size as the cull rings in crab pots. They allow the too small crabs to escape from the pot. In the cull box the holes allow the too small crabs to fall through into a container beneath.
Thus, alleviating time spent dealing with them as I cull for the 1s, biddies and 2s. There are times when the dipper comes up festooned with tiresome sea nettles. You have to be careful shaking the crabs from the bag as sea nettle goo flies every which way. I have yet to survive getting that slime in my eyes and do not want the “dock credibility” of having experienced it. I have had some of the goo on my face next to my eyes, all over my arms and hands. Irritating. One day, while suffering from a case of poison ivy, I rubbed sea nettle goo all over the afflicted areas. Something worked, and the irritation went away. Not recommended, but after all, desperation is the real mother of invention. The holes in the cull board have the added benefit of allowing the sea nettles to ooze into the container. I usually empty the container after several runs so the small crabs do not have to swim in that goo. If you forget to empty it at day’s end, the stench will definitely announce itself the next morning. Then you have to swish some bleach from the ever-present bottle of it on the boat. When you get “bit” or pinched or punctured by some of the many sharp points on a crab it is advised that you immediately wash the area with bleach. You can get a pretty good infection from such injuries.
Still at it, You
22 X 15
74-year-old Norman Gowe has a hard time imagining what he would do if he couldn’t follow the water. He has such an amazing face with expressions flickering across it all the time. Hand tonging is hard repetitive work despite the hydraulic assist. I have watched him hard at it while culling from other boats during the oyster season.
He watched us as we came around his lay to start one of our own. He knows and respects Jeff Baker the watermen who owns the boat on which I would be that day. It was Jeff, who made the introduction for me to Norman. Many of my connections are made in this way. It also helps that at day’s end when all the boats are putting out that the other men can recognize me from the early morning docks and that my face and oil skins are covered in bottom mud from culling. They can see that I work also. It is not just a day’s ride of taking pictures. If you get up close to look at this “portrait” you can just see a little smile in his eyes and one just at the edge of his mouth. When asked how he was, he said, “Still at it. You?”
22 X 15
This is a good friend, Tyrone Meredith. I have already mentioned him in several other essays. I have always enjoyed his company and am honored to be listed as crew on the Island Queen II crew manifest. This day we were oystering out of Bozman. You can surmise it is a good day from his smile and the numbers of oysters in full buckets you can see in the foreground.
Oystering in January can be tedious at times partly because the season ends in March. This oyster season was pre-pandemic so the normal market pressures were in place. As the season moves on, the numbers of larger than the legal 3” oysters are reduced. During the early months of the October to March season you can cull pretty quick just by looking at the oysters, keeping the larger than 3-inch oysters, and shoving the smalls and cultch back overboard. As you work into the later months you have to start measuring more and more. There are substantial fines for smalls and having more than 5% of cultch (shell and trash) in a bushel. Smalls and cultch are placed in a specific cup called the 5% cup, carried by all Natural Resource Police who carryout random searches for such things and request to see proper paperwork, too. The same inspections can also be carried out at the docks when putting out. Before approaching the dock each and every bushel must have a tag indicating the date, boat owner’s TFL number, and location where the oysters were harvested. If you don’t, then it is hefty fine and if there are enough infractions then a court appearance is in order. Penalties are draconian. These tags, while a pain in the ass, do allow the DNR to keep track of harvest pressure on the PSFAs (Public Shell Fish Areas). If the numbers indicate a serious fall off in bushels, the area will be closed by the DNR (not through ill-informed public opinion) to further harvesting until an assessment indicates a reopening. Tags also have to be collected by the buyers for tax purposes.
22 X 15
This is Sam Joiner, a young waterman with whom I have fished for over 10 or so years. One of the most dedicated and hardest working watermen I have had the honor to work with and know. He is warming his hands and gloves on the hot exhaust from the exhaust stack of the work boat. Some mornings the wet gloves are uncomfortably cold and warming them this way cuts the chill. I have seen him working the nets with soaking wet cloth gloves in bitter cold weather without a complaint. Actually, I have rarely ever heard him complaining about the working conditions. They are what they are. This painting for me as an artist and storyteller is about the start of another day of following the water.
Finer Than Frog’s Hair
15 X 22
This is a gentleman who goes by the name of Boze. He has been fishing from the Meredith’s head-boats for years. They have so many returning customers that it is so much like a very large family of people who are comfortable with the boat, the crew, and whatever the day brings them.
I have photographed him many times as he goes about fishing, absorbed in setting up, baiting hooks, watching him cast his line and hooks, and landing his fish. Most anglers are fishing for white perch, hardheads, or spot which are usually found on the bottom. It is the hands and the nearly invisible fish line against the brilliant early morning sky that caught my eye. The days I spend on Tyrone’s boat in his company and his customers, as I “fill in the blanks”, talking, sharing stories, and just listening to the conversations are some of the most pleasant I have ever spent. I also spend a lot of time talking oyster and other resource politics with Tyrone. His deck mate, T’Bone, and I share a lot of funny stories and jokes. Sometimes Tyrone’s sister Vera is also working on the boat. Cousins, nephews and nieces have also worked on the two Island Queens. The family grew up working on the boat for their father, Eldridge. The circle of families.
On Harlequin Waters
22 X 15
Sometimes it is the incredible things happening in the waters around the boats as we work that catch my eye. Wind combined with its waves and the disturbances created by the boats and their men at work can create an assortment of curved reflective surfaces that make for a visually busy surface. The boat is Miss Yolanda with its crew of Kent Islanders. I have liked the lines of this boat for many years.
But, as I have said over the years, much of what I paint are excuses to paint water. It is never the same, by itself on a “plate” or “dish cam” day, it has little character other than its smooth and powerfully reflective surface. It has little shape except for that defined by the container. Then along comes a wake from a distant passing boat, perhaps as Carl Sandburg described fog, a slight breeze may come on cat’s paws. Sometimes these breezes create thousands of dash-like shapes ruining the smooth shapes and slight shadows of the swells. As the wind increases the surface becomes more turbulent and less reflective of the sky above and more of the darks and lights present in the zenith of the sky. Add in some clouds to be fragmented in the reflections and the surface can become a mosaic of lights and darks. But best of all is the fact that it is never the same. I have taken countless pictures of water. Not just for reference use in my drawings or paintings but just for the pleasure of being aware of the differences. I also take endless pictures of skies and clouds. Calm water by itself is a very minimalist exercise at best. It isn’t until things start to influence it that it acquires texture. The waters in this picture had so many things going on in it that the word harlequin came to mind. Fascinating.
15 X 22
According to Other Wordly, a collection of words from around the world, brontide is the low rumble as of distant thunder. I collect books about words, especially ancient words. In this painting a workboat is coming around to pick me up from the dock. The workboat was on a staub and had to be reached by rowing the bateau out to it.
It was very early in the morning on Worton Creek. The LED lights lit up the boat, the waterman, the wake, and the bateau now under tow. I cherish my old Nikon and its abilities to capture such scenes with very little or no blurring from what I have learned is called gross movement. It was the America’s Cup photographers who taught me a lot about taking pictures on the water. Especially after they learned I was not competing for magazine covers or article illustrations in magazines. It was then they stopped from blocking me from the rail and started to teach me about the moments to look for. I really like this painting for many things. It is the hint of distant bad weather on the horizon lit up by the lights of Baltimore that ties this painting to its promise.
Found a Day’s Work
15 X 22
There are some daybreaks that seemingly put the boats floating in the sky. This sky was so difficult to paint that I had to take the original version into the kitchen and ever so softly washed it and the painted water off using the sink’s spray nozzle. That is a technique born of desperation. I don’t use it very often.
It is usually a sign of intense disappointment, frustration and an unwillingness to give up. It is after all just a piece of paper. Anyway, the resultant paint left after the scrubbing is actually what I should have done in the first place. Lucky me that I had decided early on to leave the boat white and some slashes of white paper to indicate ripples in the waters of a very calm morning. Sometimes when oystering a waterman can happen on to a small lump of oysters that had gone overlooked by the others, he can make a day’s work out of it.
It’s Always Been About the Water
15 X 22
I am so very fortunate to have met so many good people in the water business. This boat owned by Jack Moore, a retired state policeman, is crewed by his brother Mike, along with his son and a relative. All family. Another of Jack’s brothers, Wes, is a very good self-taught painter of Kent County landscapes. I traded him one of my paintings for one of his, and it now hangs in our living room.
Before the pandemic I would be invited to go to Rock Hall with all the brothers and a long-time good friend of the family for breakfast. I got to sit back and listen to stories about growing up in Kent County on the family farm and about being state policemen. Great stuff. This painting is of Jack’s boat going about the business of crabbing from drop pots. I saw them one morning when returning from fishing pound nets and managed to snag a few shots of them as we went by. Some would see a rather normal day on the bay, but for me it is never “normal.” The water, it’s always been about the water, and if I can get a family in the painting then all the better.
Suns Up, Times a Wasten’
15 X 22
Sometimes one can get to see a really good sunrise. Most watermen do not get to see sunsets. Therefore, many of my more colorful paintings and skies are sunrises. This is Norman Gowe on his workboat, The Gowe Girls. The oyster regulations state that you cannot have any gear overboard before sunrise.
This morning the water wasn’t too disturbed. It was the wake of a passing boat that stretched out the waves into long shapes of color. Norman is just getting ready to start his day. Once he is at it, he rarely ever takes a break. If he does, it is to step down from the washboards and cull. It is an artist’s conceit that I don’t put the names of boats on them. I find it too distracting. Something about viewers not knowing the boat that allows them to walk away from the time and effort it took to make the painting.
Only Three Came Out/2012- 100 Guinea’s Cup
15 X 22
This J Class Regatta was to incorporate a resailing of the original race course that basically started the America’s Cup in the 1850s. It was the upstart yacht America that then sailed across the Atlantic to challenge the best yachts that Great Britain had at the time. She so soundly trounced the British yachts that when Queen Victoria asked who came in second, she was told,” Ma’am there is no second.”
At that time the trophy was called the 100 Guineas Cup. The three yachts in this image are, Ranger, Lionheart, and Rainbow involved in a recreation of the race around the Isle of Wight. Spectacular, grand, huge, elegantly graceful…hard to find appropriate adjectives to describe them. And then there is the wonderfully green waters of the Solent. Painters over hundreds of years have painted the Solent greens. I have to admit I once thought that green was a little too much. But after I first ventured out on those historic waters, I was taken by just how green they can be.
And so…The Day Begins
15 X 22
For some photographers or artists such a hazy morning might not be their cup of tea. In fact, some really prefer what I call calendar weather, to shoot. Watermen call that kind of day, blue bird weather. I have always thought that no matter what weather they worked in, would be more than appropriate for photography, drawing and painting.
People have to realize that the blue bird day, “romantic” image of a waterman rarely happens. Harvesting their seafood is hard work in all manner of conditions and sometimes for poor pay. But it is something they would rather do than anything else. If you aren’t out there every day then you won’t make it. This solitary workboat headed out for another day of oystering says just that.
The Edge at Love Point
15 X 22
This is Sam Joiner working his bateau along the topline of his poundnet at Love Point. Many watermen told him he would never be able to keep a pound net set there. Among the many reasons they told him were the fierce tides against the winds, the tidal race, and the idiot motor boaters who would run over and through it at times.
Having spent several years fishing with just Sam, I learned that he would take such comments as a challenge. One, mind you, that he met with great success. Storms have trashed his nets, boaters have run through them, and the tides against the wind have made it difficult to fish. Yet, he persists and has made damn good money doing so. I have painted many pictures of him working this net in conditions of flat calm, to racing tide against the winds, which can create very high and confused seas, swells, and chop. The edge, referred to in the title, is the portion of the bottom that rises up from the channel to the stone pile that was at one time the channel light. This edge is what brings up the fish to feed where they then encounter the hedge and follow it to the hearts and then through the funnel into the crib.
15 X 22
I have already written about this barcat being used to hand tong for oysters. There is no cabin with which to block the wind and if you examine their gear, they are bundled up against the wind driven cold. Oyster weather is in the colder months of the year. Working in what appears to be a mere slip of a boat is visually engaging and somewhat uncomfortable.
Walking the washboards just inches from the water and culling at the board while directly facing the wind is physically demanding work. Yet once you stop for even a minute the cold finds you. I have not culled on an open boat. There was usually a cabin to block the wind at times. Though sometimes my oil skins and beard are coated with icicles because I am working with my back to the wind in the shade and am getting sprayed with freezing water from the rig. Proof of life.
15 X 22
I try to be early to the docks and landings whenever I am going out along with the watermen. I don’t want them waiting for me. It is their work day and their office and workplace too. Being early gives me time to get some pictures and kind of “warm up” to the coming day. I also get to talk with other watermen who by now have gotten to know me.
Many times, I show up with pictures of them at work and hand them out. I do this because so few have ever had photos of themselves at work and having them enables the watermen to share their work with their families and in some cases with their children and grandchildren. In some instances, such photos have accompanied obituaries. Many times, I am asked for photos of a recently deceased family member for the memory board at the funeral. All of which I’m more than willing to give. These men have shared so much of their lives with me and never asked for financial compensation or even the photos. So, there I was at the landing and looked up at the moon as the thin clouds passed in front of it. The lights at the landing had lit up the branches of a tree in a soft reddish orange. I snapped off a quick shot. Not really expecting to get a useable one due to the circumstances. But I did get one. And it haunted me for months before I painted it. I was reading that biography of da Vinci during the time of this painting. The part of the book was detailing his fascination with the human eye, the way we perceive the world around us and how he was at the forefront of the nexus of science and art. The moon became an iris.
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