MARC CASTELLI / Paralian
October 22 – November 27
During the Downrigging festival we are extending our Exhibition Hours at the High Street location:
Friday, October 28 | 5:00-7:30pm
Saturday, October 29 | 10:00am – 5:00pm
Sunday, October 30 | 11:00am -3:00pm
Marc’s annual exhibition has become synonymous with Sultana’s Downrigging Festival. Now in its 22nd year, the
Sultana Education Foundation’s Downrigging Weekend Festival is one of the largest annual tall ship gatherings in North America.
30” X 22”
It was during the winter and on one of my many trips to Tilghman to spend time with the father and son boat building team of Kinnamons. That would be Johnny (85) and his son J.C. (50 something), born and bred Tilghman Islanders.
Something of a rarity these days with so many people moving to the island. Such folks have been called “came-heres,” or as the Irish call such folks “blow-ins,” and lately they have been called “implants.” Anyway, I had been oystering earlier in the day, hand tonging, out of Neavitt. I should say, culling, as I don’t work the hand tongs. This despite many invitations to do so. I quickly remind the oystermen that hand tongs are also called “stupid-sticks” or “widow makers.” For nothing. Few things irritate me more than a photographer or writer who has a publicity photo taken while driving a skipjack or hand tonging. My skill level is culling. Once I am done with the day on the water, I would run down to Tilghman to check in on the Kinnamons and see what they were building. This day there were two not quite finished deadrise workboats in the driveway alongside the building where they were created. While the Kinnamons will say that they build “cheap boats,” many of their long-time customers are always more than happy to come back for a refit, an engine transfer, or a brand-new boat. I personally know of some Kinnamon builds that are still being used that are over 30 years old. The glare of the sun through the high overhead clouds onto the cabin tops and washboards (decks) with the leafless limbs, branches, and twigs etched on the sky all but begged to be photographed.
30” X 15”
I am so very lucky to have had an islander (Kathi Ferguson, a fine artist in her own right) make the introduction to the Kinnamons for me. It is like getting one foot in the door to a private way of life. In the few years that they have let me come into their workdays and lives, I have been able to hear all manner of stories, learn a lot about the water business, the history as told to me by those who made it, construction of deadrise workboats, and to photograph damn near all the stages in construction of a Chesapeake deadrise workboat.
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.
22” X 30”
Many people think that having a pound net is akin to going to the bank to make a withdrawal. The fishing part is the easiest part of the gear type. Among the harder tasks can be finding poles, and yellow pine are the best, not only are they tough with a tight grain (witnessed by the many workboats built from yellow pine), but they secrete a resin when the bark is removed which encases the pole in a tough layer.
Then, you must set them in a manner that doesn’t interfere with the trapping of fish. Once you have the poles in place you have to hang the hedging or leader, then the hearts or forebay, and then the crib with its funnel. A pound net can cost around 9 to 12 thousand dollars. All of that before you get to fish. In this painting the net had been fished a day or so before and had a lot of rockfish in it. This day it had probably a ton of sea nettles in it. Working the fish towards the big boat where these gentlemen are standing at the ready involves raising up portions of the crib to move the fish. When you have let’s say a ton of sea nettles in your crib the load gets quite heavy. And, it’s depressing as you discover the fish won’t trap in such a mess. A portion of the fish can be sequestered to one side of the crib, while the other topline is let down to allow the sea nettles to wash out. The watermen with their dip nets are removing any fish they see in the cloudy morass of sea nettles. That gray day there were a fair number of Spanish Mackerel, some Rock and little else. Fish Hawks is a colloquialism for osprey. The men standing with their dip nets reminded me of the way that osprey watch for signs of fish.
Rising Winds, Rising Seas
22” X 30”
Imagine setting out to try your luck at haul seining as we did that day. We were still trying to fine tune the process when the gods were against us and tried us sorely that day, evening, and night. The weather report said nothing about a swing in wind direction that afternoon as we set out to try and trap some mud shad, a bait fish. The water was flat calm, “dish cam” as some watermen will call it.
Enjoying the early Fall late afternoon light let me take some very nice photos of clouds reflected in the waters as we headed up a small creek. Haul seining is one of the most ancient forms of fishing and probably the most physically demanding. One end of a net is staked on shore while the other end is taken out from that point to encircle the fish seen in an earlier scouting. In the middle of the net is a pocket to trap the fish. The other end is quickly taken to shore thus, trapping the fish. I saw this done in Oman. On this day the waves started to pick up, and we started to realize that the winds had shifted and were now blowing straight at us. Not only did we have a lot of mud shad in the net, which excited the dog we had with us to no end, we gradually realized that the rising waves would severely hinder us in hauling the net to empty it of fish. Soon we had more fish than we had boats and trying to get the fish out of the net into the boats in the waves which by then were driving straight at us became an exercise of avoiding swamping and capsizing on the shore. The light was failing, the winds were rising, and the dog was not happy. We were in a pickle. To make matters even more interesting we couldn’t get out from under the bluff to get a cell phone signal to tell the ladies we were going to be late. Eventually, we had to move the tubs and crates from one boat to the next boat and then to shore and then back to the boats again, to refit them in a more stable manner (think Tetris). We got enough things straightened out to take that load of fish to the dock, to call the ladies, and put the fish out so we could return to the scene and then finish it up. Time – 9:00 pm in the dark. The men told me to just go home, and they would finish up. They’re not hearing any of my arguments to the contrary, I went home. Not until the next day did, I hear how long it took them to clean it all up. They did not get home until 12 that night. Talk about a teachable moment. The painting is of a good friend of mine standing out in the rising waves in a body-boot to help clear any hangs and to stand on the bottom line to keep the fish in the net as it is hauled to shore.
30” X 22”
Fishing a pound net especially out on Love Point can be quite hairy at times. Especially when the tide is against the wind creating a lot of swells and chop. Having to raise the far side net of the crib to move the trapped fish closer to the larger boat involves one man in a bateau raising the net up and securing the cut line to a pole.
Tough physical work and sometimes a bit of capitalizing on the scend of the waves can help. Sunrise on the water with the light scattering in the waves and bouncing onto the boat made for an interesting interaction between shape and color. Lowering myself in the larger boat to better frame the waterman against the sky helped to exaggerate the rise and fall of the waves as he made the cut water to the pole. I fished with this young waterman for almost 13 years. Got to learn a lot about fish, gear, nets, and all manner of other things from him. I saw a lot of amazing things, experienced weather, conditions that many would shy away from. He enjoys the challenges, one of which was putting up with my questions. He also let me work alongside him and, hopefully, allowed me to make his day a tad shorter.
30” X 22”
I am not sure if glinting is a word or not, but it does describe most aptly the sight of light on the water. I do enjoy looking directly into the sunlight as it floods onto the water and backlights the clouds. There are effects of extreme lights and darks that come into play. They can make for strong compositions.
In this instance we were hand tonging on Broad Creek for oysters. That season is probably my favorite of them all. The cold, the quick march across the sky of the sun, the physical harvesting of oysters with little mechanical aids is fascinating. Not to mention I get down and real dirty while culling and taking pictures. I enjoy the physical work and, at the end of the day, I am not just mentally tired, but physically exhausted. I have seen painters in the past make dark and silhouette shapes out of such circumstances. But the eye and brain have an ability to correct for that. If one looks close enough into the silhouette you will discover shapes of their own with lights and darks. It is the glinting of light on the waves that caught my eye. Saving the white paper for such bright effects required a lot of drawing and painting around them to begin achieving the effect. For me, an unlooked-for bonus was the top lit sea gull. Just one more subtle reinforcement about the direction of light and the viewpoint.
The Cruelest God is the God of the Counted Chicken
30” X 22”
I had originally done this image as a pen and ink. I see it every day when I am trotlining for crabs with a good friend on the Chester River. It is a small boat with an open back to the cabin. Sometimes it is the length of a day that lets me see everything around me on the boat in a different way. I had been looking for a subject for a pen and ink drawing. As I finished the drawing the shapes struck me as somewhat abstract, and I wanted to explore that in a watercolor.
The darkness of the hanging oil skins against the white of the washboards and the deep colors of the empty bushel baskets all became the near abstract shapes that appealed to me in both the photograph and the subsequent drawing. The title is a quote from a book I had been reading at the time. A big part of why I still go out to be on the water with the watermen is the anticipation for what will be revealed. It is never the same, nor are the circumstances, or the men on the boats. Yet the unspoken need to witness and experience the work drives me all year long. I average around 100 days a year on the waters of the Chesapeake and its tributaries. There are possibly hundreds of thousands of photographs I have taken of such scenes, from all times of the year, that go back nigh unto 30 years now. There are hopes when we leave the dock, tempered by the years of expectations and realities. Many watermen would prefer steady harvests rather than boom and bust types.
Last Day of the Season
22” X 30”
Oystering! God, how I enjoy oystering. While I do not operate the gear I do get to cull, all day long. For all involved it can be wet, bitter cold, and physically demanding for the work. In this image the gear type is patent tonging for oysters. These are hydraulic assisted tongs. The nature of the work is highly repetitive and yet each grab has to be treated as an individual unique opportunity to see, cull, and discard any shell, smalls, and cultch. Mistakes can result in tickets and fines.
I am rather proud of the fact that no one has ever gotten a warning or a ticket for anything I have culled. The season last year was a boom year for not only the watermen but also for the oysters as Mother Nature was very good for them to reproduce, to grow out, and to live. Despite the many eco-enviro groups wish and their fight to micromanage the Bay’s resources, you just can’t manage the rain and the climate. Both are important factors in managing any natural resource. The image is oystering out of Hooper’s Island, down bay. Long drives to catch our limit in less time that it took to drive down and home. Again, I am fascinated by the shapes of people, objects that are back lit. Bright, winter light mind you. We all wear oil skins to stay dry and warm. Such gear reveals little of the wearer’s physique. A favorite English artist of mine, Arthur Trevor Briscoe dispensed with the sailors’ oil skins to make, in his eyes, better images of the hard labor of able-bodied seamen. While I really like his work, and have several books about it, oil skins are an indicator of the season and conditions. Plus, I like the play of light and darks, especially when they are wet. An added bonus for where the light is coming from is the wet cull board and reflections.
12 To Go
30” X 22”
Taking up pound net poles is one of the jobs mentioned in the Fish Hawks essay. In the waters of the upper bay, it is a good idea that you take up your nets and the poles. Fresher water in the rivers freeze quicker than the higher salinity waters of the estuarine waters. Your nets can be damaged or destroyed if it freezes in and around the nets and poles. So, at the end of the rock fish-pound net season (June 1st to December 1st) most pound net fishermen will take off their nets and pull their poles.
Poles are getting harder to find as landowners sell off more of their land to developers. Yellow pine poles are the best as they last longer with their tighter grain, sap, and weigh less than oak if you can find it straight enough to use, or the softer woods of gum or poplar. The poles are sharpened with a chain saw and then painted with a red bottom, or barn paint, to try and prevent barnacles from growing on them. These pests grow especially fast in the warmer summer months. Barnacles have sharp edges to their shells and if not removed during the season will cut the net. In addition to the saving them for the next season, taking up poles keeps them from breaking off at the water level in the ice and becoming future navigational hazards. It was the radical perspective of the poles as they sweep off to the distance where the waterman is using a winch and chains to pull the poles that attracted me. The 12 remaining poles recede off towards the fog shrouded shore. They will be stacked on a specially built rack fitted to the boat.
St. Patrick’s Day
22” X 30”
One year not so long ago I was with a father/son team fishing fykes on St. Patrick’s Day. A day fraught with bad superstitions. Fykes are a kind of fish trap, somewhat like a pound net, with a leader and forebay but smaller and with other features. They are usually used in the winter to trap both white and yellow perch and catfish if they are about.
The night before there had been a heavy snowfall, and it was snowing throughout the day itself. While it was cold, it was extremely quiet and beautiful to see. In this image the men having beached the bateau are clearing the lines and net to set the fyke. Cold weather and dipped net with lines can make for a very stiff, hard-to-work-with combination. It was easier to straighten out everything on shore. I am pleased with the new winter snow cleanliness and the Morse code-like dots and dashes of the snow laden branches.
22” X 30”
Our son Ken lived on Tangier Island, Virginia, for 6 years. It is located well down Bay, south of Smith Island and offshore from Crisfield, Maryland. You can take a ferry there or the mail boat. I recommend the mail boat since it is usually full of locals from the island. Anyway, we would go down to visit with Ken and some good friends who introduced him and us to the island.
It is a very isolated place made even more so by the fact that most of the people are involved in their daily lives with little time for tourists. I have always thought that “If you aren’t comfortable with yourself when you are alone then don’t go to Tangier.” It’s not a judgement, it is the nature of the island. One time, some tourists had thought the island was actually an historical re-enactment. They would go into the yards of houses and look into the windows at the residents while they tried to eat breakfast or dinner, or would be watching television. Needless to say, they were chased off and quickly disavowed of that idea. But the island has a grace, a certain light that no other place in the Bay has, and many of the people are good souls. In the winter I would go down and stay with our son (who was either working in the boatyard or in the museum that he helped to found) enabling me to go out oystering with some of the watermen. Conditions on Tangier Sound in the winter can be right nautical with large swells, strong winds, and chop. Incredible things to see and take photos. And then be grateful for a safe day out and back. In the evenings I would go for a long walk to take advantage of the late afternoon light. The boatyard was always a favorite of mine. It had many types of down bay workboats, like barcats, in various stages of refit. This view with its emphasis on a very large sky and a low horizon has one such workboat on oil cans with the top of the phragmites just catching the last of the light. The severity of the simple composition restates the isolation of the island and appeals to me.
Johnny and J.C.
22” X 30”
This is another view of a workboat being built at Tilghman Island’s J. C. Kinnamons on Knapps Narrows. She has just been fiber glassed and painted. While there is still a lot of work to be done, like windows and doors, you can see the grace of her sheer and functionality. The Kinnamons have been very generous with me hanging around asking questions, many of them patently dumb.
But then J. C. told me that such questions were alright because dumb answers were still for free. To quote from The Book of Eels, “… that compelling need to observe, describe and understand…”. As an artist, I knew that the boat itself would become a big, quiet space in the composition, despite its presence being built. That quiet space became important as I filled in all the tools, spaces, pieces of wood, and such. I did remove a window from the back wall as it detracted from the boat. I did apologize to both Johnny and J. C. for exercising some artistic license. The title is a reference to the armchair and the bar stool. Sometimes when I would walk in the two would be sitting there talking near the wood stove.
Back Tomorrow-Weather Permitting
30” X 22”
One of the first things I do every morning is check the day’s weather. Even though I may have no plans for going anywhere. Probably a habit from my days in Western Michigan when I was racing C-scows and would check the local television channel for the weather report before going to bed. Still a good habit. Recently, I came across a weather alert about high winds, driving rain, and small craft advisories. It stated that, “all mariners should stay weather aware.” I like the phrasing of that.
This painting is from something that caught my eye as we were cleaning up from a day of oystering. It was the cold winter sun pouring through the empty bushel basket, the warped pattern of its shadow and highlights as they fell across the cull board and oyster hammer. Gone are the wooden bushel baskets. I miss them. For years they were ever present on nearly every workboat. Some bored person in the health department got a “great idea” and started saying that such baskets could present a health risk and could not be as easily washed out as the plastic ones. To this day I have never seen anyone wash out a plastic basket. I guess I shouldn’t say that as this someone in the health department will want a box to check off on the monthly oyster reports that the baskets did get washed out. I am assuming such an expert has never seen a culler or hand tonger after a day on muddy or hard bottom.
30” X 22”
I have been around racing log canoes for 31 years. I have crewed on one for 30 years. Flying Cloud is the sister ship to Jay Dee, the one on which I have spent nearly 25 years. Log canoes were my introduction to the Eastern Shore. Exotic, indigenous, not well known even in Maryland, and they are now mainly sailed on the rivers of the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. There are only about 17 of them left that are capable of being sailed and raced.
A boat survey from the late 1880s recorded several thousand of them. Almost all of those were actually workboats. They were relatively simple to build, and many were not anywhere as elegant as those being raced today. Many were quite beautiful especially as they became crossover boats. That means that they were not only worked but also raced. Rigs changed, with masts growing taller to carry more sail, springboards came into play as balancing the sails and keelless hull became crucial and the hulls became fairer. I am simplifying the evolution. A wonderful book, Tradition, Speed and Grace/Chesapeake Bay Sailing Log Canoes, by John C. North II, will fill you in on a lot of the history along with an amazing collection of vintage and contemporary photos and artwork. It is available at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Back to Flying Cloud. She was built in 1932 and went through an extensive refit in 2020-21. Here she is portrayed racing in her first season after the refit. I find the racing canoes elegant to watch and brutal to sail. Such a grand dichotomy. As a side note, I had been approached by Judge North (a close friend of 30 years) if I would come up with a design to put on her kite. After some thrashing around, I remembered that many of the fine automobiles in his collection reflect the beauty of the times between the two World Wars, especially the Art Deco influences. Spending some time going through books about that period of time, I came across an image with clouds in it. It was from that image the present graphic was derived. Sometimes one can almost see such patterns in the clouds over a river with log canoes racing on it. I have painted over 450 or so watercolors of these beautiful sailing craft and done countless pen and inks of them, too.
22” X 30”
Of late I have been taking more and more photos of the shorelines of the rivers where I have been working. Especially as they are reflected on the wakes of either the boat I am on or one that just passed by as it carried the watermen headed out to their work. In this instance the bateau carrying the man who would be racing ahead to get to the pound net and start raising up the crib before we arrive. Usually, we would fish 3 nets out of 11 a day.
Saving time and making their day shorter became something I wanted to be able to bring to the boat. In the nearly twelve years I worked with them they taught me, with great patience, much about nets, fish, culling fish, the seasons of fish, watercraft, and boat handling. I got to see so many incredible things on that river. Things I would never have seen if they hadn’t been so welcoming and understanding about my need to observe and understand. So many things that are unwritten and seemingly arcane. Anyway…this image is of the as yet to break the horizon sunrise reflected in the wake serrated waters off of Turner Point on the Sassafras River. Some would complain that the wake ruined a perfectly calm water’s reflection of the land and sky. Each to their own…
Getting it Right/ Flying Cloud
22” X 30”
The crew of a racing log canoe isn’t an easy thing to build. So many people want to do it. So many people just plain don’t understand how these elegant machines actually work. So many people come to them with their “teacups brimming” with years of sailing and racing experience and aren’t the least bit reticent about making their “expertise” known to everyone on the boat.
Much to the chagrin of the handful of veterans on board who already know that these racing machines are not like anything these newbies have ever sailed/raced/experienced before. The first season of Flying Cloud had many such moments. The best thing was that a core crew would develop from that season and become the crew around which the newbies would learn from and do well. The title, “Getting it Right” reflects a moment when the crew, boat, skipper, all were on the same page and sailing The Cloud to her potential. In a lot of wind, it takes quite a few people to balance the boat and man her springboards. She is one of the three largest racing log canoes. The others are the Jay Dee and Mystery.
September Crabs / Buzzie’s Triangle
22” X 30”
This is another shoreline piece. Probably one of many more to come. The place is just down river from the mouth of Gray’s Inn Creek. Not sure how the name came about, but it is one derived from local knowledge and probably not on any maps. I have been told to spell it any way I want. At times, the edges of the river bottom seem to attract to blue crabs. Early morning light on trees created sharp shadows in the shore grasses and highlighted the colors in the leaves. Then the elongated reflections in the disturbed water became an interesting set of shapes. Trotlining for crabs wasn’t all that bad either.
That’s One for You…
22” X 30”
This is Lamont Pollard culling oysters while we worked on Broad Creek. Two seasons ago, 2020-21, we were just starting to see signs of promise for the next season 21-22. Towards the end of that season, we had to do a lot of measuring as the regulation states that all oysters must be 3” in length from bill to hinge.
The work can be mind-numbing in its repetitiveness. And yet you have to be paying a lot of attention to the measuring, and also try to chip off any spat measuring less than 3”. At that time there was a lot of small oysters that while they came close to the 3” measure, they still had to be put back over. In this case the oyster was a keeper. The 2021-22 season saw a harvest report of 535,000 bushels of oysters. The best in over 35 years! Thank you, Mother Nature!
That’s Going to Leave a Mark/ Mystery
15” X 22”
I have already written about the need for constant attention to the balance of a log canoe. Complacency has no place on a log canoe. Much like a motorcycle, if you don’t respect it a log canoe will betray you in the blink of an eye. There are a couple of ways a log canoe will capsize. The first is that the winds will just plain overpower it and the crew despite everything being done to stay upright and moving forward. In that case the whole rig falls to leeward, usually ejecting people from the springboards as the canoe ends up on its sides. The second is shipping too much water by a complacent crew no longer paying attention to the leeward rail.
Once a canoe starts to ship a lot of water, and no one can bail quick enough, it will settle into the water, lose forward momentum, and fall to leeward. I have been victim to this and seen it many times in my 30 years. The fourth is when you have a lot of shifty winds that come and go in the blink of an eye. In such conditions the boardmen are always moving in and out trying to balance the boat and keep up her headway. If the wind falls out suddenly, the boardmen that are all the way out on their boards will get dunked. This results in some being swept off their boards, some just falling off their boards, and others struggling to get back on board. If the canoe doesn’t capsize and regains headway, the crew members must then be recovered, requiring the canoe to come head to wind, lose forward momentum, giving the crew members time to swim back to the canoe or grab a line and be hauled back aboard. The association rules state that a canoe must finish with all the crew members who were on board when it started. In this painting, it is one of the three largest canoes, Mystery, built in 1931, that is in extremis. She has dunked her boardmen and has lost some of them who did not fall forward on to their board and hug it for dear life. To make matters worse, the rig appears to be ready to fall on the crew. That is a most dangerous place to be. People can drown getting tangled in the sheets, shrouds, and lines, and also getting trapped under the huge sails. Capsizing to windward is rare. Mystery has already got her jib boom planted in the water denying any relief from that sail, no one has any control of her fore and main, she is in immediate danger of capsizing. BUT…. for reasons unknown to this author, she stood back up and sailed off with an insufficient handful of people onboard and then capsized to leeward. Have never seen such a thing in my 31 years. And, I got several photographs of the whole incident, too. I used to refrain from painting such scenes. Not anymore.
An Angularity of Log Canoes
22” X 15”
I am attracted to the size, shapes, and negative spaces created by the sails of more than one log canoe sailing in close proximity to each other. The geometries have fascinated me for many years. Of late, I have been concentrating more so than in the past to capture such sights. The circumstances could be the sails in direct sunlight or backlit as in this scene. If onboard a log canoe, I may take six or seven hundred photographs. All log canoes have a chase boat in case of capsizes or pre-start gear removal or additions or removal of crew.
These boats are technically the only boats other than the log canoes and race committee allowed on the racecourse. You can find yourself in many good places to take photographs if you are lucky enough to know someone connected to a log canoe and have permission to be onboard. But be aware if you are in the wind or in the way of a log canoe a whole raft of abuse will be directed toward you. I’d like to have a T-shirt printed that would read “Get out of the/my way” as my position on the log canoe is up forward, and I am always ready to yell at interlopers. Anyway… these canoes are so wonderful to watch, they are like pieces of origami or swans on the water. Just do so at an appropriate distance.
An Arena on the Narrows
22” X 30”
Kent Narrows is where the tide really races through, and you have to alert the drawbridge tender that you want to pass under. On the Eastern side of the narrows are restaurants, docks, marinas, and United Shellfish, a buyer of fish, oysters, and other sundry fish. It is one of the largest fish buyers and sellers on the East Coast. Some watermen with bay side pound nets will take their catch to United as it is closer than going back to Rock Hall, then putting their catch out to their trucks and hauling them to whatever buyers they can deal with.
At certain angles when looking along the bulkhead, it would seem as if the narrows were lined with wooden pilings. It can look like an arena. It is this view that caught my eye as we put out our catch of rockfish and Spanish mackerel for the dock workers from United to take back to the freezing cold building for cleaning and packaging. It’s chagrining to think that when we go to the supermarket to buy fish, we have to settle for less than local fresh fish. I am sure the economics of supply and demand are at play that keep locally harvested seafood out of the supermarkets. Overcoming that issue is hard and probably won’t never happen.
God Gave Us This Day Our Daily Limit / Thanks
30” X 22”
I had been working on a boat, Gentle Breeze, owned by the then minister on Deal Island, Sonny Benton. But it was his son Andrew and his friend Tucker Harrison who were hand tonging that day while I helped out culling. The boat was small and crowded with gear. Once we had our limit of 12 bushels a piece, we made our way back to the docks at Mt. Vernon, way down bay. An oyster boat can only harvest the limit for two oyster licenses or paid surcharges on a Tidal Fishery License. That is if there are two such licenses on the boat that day. If there is only one license, then only one limit can be harvested.
I have a TFL with an oyster ticket/paid surcharge on it. If there is only one hand-tonger on the boat, I can add in my limit to the day’s catch. It is one way that I can repay the men for putting up with me on the boat. They have never asked for money to cover their costs and have never taken any offered money either. I do print photographs for them at their work. I believe that many of them do not have these images and would like to have them to show what it was they did with their lives. To be welcomed on almost any boat under such circumstances is an honor. One which I would hope I have never abused. The watermen would be quick to let me know if I have. I would not be allowed back. So, in this view we are crowded with two layers of multicolored plastic bushel baskets of oysters. I liked the repetition of shapes, and ripple-like circular rims to the baskets.
On Cat’s Feet
22” X 30”
We are in Eastern Bay, down from Rock Hall, hand tonging for oysters. It is early and the October morning fog is still laying out on the water. That combined with sea smoke made for an ethereal light. Softening edges and shapes. Despite the seemingly repetitive nature of such work, it is the quality of light that separates each day from the previous one. I lucked out this day as it was the softening effect of the light that blurred the snakeskin-like camouflage of the waterman’s oil skins. I have had to add camo to the list of difficult things to paint, along with net, flannel, and grasses. One would think that with such everyday things in the world of watermen that I would pick something else to paint.
15” X 22”
This is the father of another family with whom I have been fishing on the Chester River for several generations. While I like to get out with him and his grown sons, it can be awkward at times as I think he isn’t sure what to make of me. In fact, he put me on a one-trip-a-month “diet.” I can work with that. So, the crew had been fishing pound nets and also fyke nets. I like to think I am helping them by culling fish, and they let me think that. We had been fishing pound nets that day.
When it came time for fishing fykes, they wordlessly got into their bateau. Not presuming, I stood on the workboat. The father looked at me and asked, “Are you just going to stand there?” Needless to say, I grabbed one camera and quickly got onboard. Taking photos from a small boat in which everyone is working is close work at best. But it is that viewpoint I strive for and partially why I want to be on the boat and not spectating from off boat. The patterns of the net as it is being stretched to tie up the funnel rising up to the waterman’s face and his focused eyes makes for an active composition.
22” X 15”
Sometimes the men are not working the net or dipping fish to be culled. They are busy elsewhere, maybe repairing holes in the net, maybe cutting bait for the pound net. Catfish is the main targeted fish for the pound nets up on the Sassafras. But up on that river you will catch blue gills, pumpkin seeds, several kinds of carp, white perch, crappie, and all manner of other fish. I have a list and photos of over 25 different kinds of fish that have been caught in their nets. The fresher waters of the Sassafras can attract different fish than those down bay.
Catfish have different tastes from river to river. Baiting them up that way calls for cut up mud shad. So, while they are at that task, I am looking around for things to take pictures of. Shooting digitally these days gives me way more flexibility than when I was using slide film. I can take “risks” by shooting a lot of things. In this image it is the framing of the wood bateau by the corner poles of the pound net and the calm of the water that caught my eye. As it was relatively quiet, I could lay out over the washboards (deck) and lower my camera to just off of the water and take a couple of shots.
22” X 15”
Just outside the door of the Kinnamon’s shop on Tilghman is a catchall. That is usually a term for a place that one just stacks up odds and ends to get them out of the way. You don’t have to be a boat builder or a waterman to have them. We all have them. In this instance it looked to me as if everything in the unintentional still life pertained to life on the water. Add in a great direction of light and the colors on the wall where paint rollers were cleaned, and you have an interesting subject. I couldn’t resist.
22” X 15”
In the summer months I have been spending my time with a good friend while he trotlines for crabs on the various parts of the Chester River around Long Cove. He is one of the funniest, patient, and kindest people I have ever known. I am lucky to have him for such a good friend. He teaches me a lot about trotlining and its subtleties, about crabs as they change through the summer, and has been around far longer than me so he is full of great stories. He lets me cull his crabs for him.
When we are running the line, I have some time to look around, and I have been taking pictures of some of the same trees all summer. Some rise out of the corn fields along the riverbank, some are perches for eagles, some are pines standing at the end of point of grass-covered land, others have osprey in them. This isolated vine chocked tree with one lone osprey on a bare limb caught my eye. I enjoyed the simple composition and even more enjoyed the painting of it. It speaks of my favorite artists.
Caught Out / H. H. Krentz
22” X 15”
One wintry day I was walking around the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. I like this time of year as the museum is open but nearly deserted. The bow of this skipjack in the mulshy ice (a Tangier Island word for soft ice) ice and falling snow appealed to my interest in abstraction. The snow-covered ice on the Miles River stretched off into the graying snow-filled distant sky. It was hard to paint despite the simplicity. Such subjects need a moment for deciding when to stop. That is something I have been learning more and more about as I get older and perhaps more confident in my technique. Caught out is a reference to being caught at the dock and perhaps unable to get out to go oystering.
By the Water, Under the Trees, Scattered Are the Traces of The Lost
15” X 22’ (NFS)
Got to see this beautifully quiet pre-sunrise while fishing pound nets on the Chester River. The sun has not yet reached the horizon, but it has just touched the tips of the tree branches with pink. The wake of our boat had yet to disturb the waters under the shore. The water was so calm that when painting this watercolor, I could turn it upside down to better catch the reflections of the trees. The title is from a novel I was reading at the time. Seemed appropriate.
22” X 15”
These are a few of the first crabs to be culled. I looked down and liked the exaggerated linear elements of the basket pieces and the way that isolated crabs will always back themselves up against a wall. It is as if they are being spun that way by the Coriolis effect of the Tilt-a-Whirl amusement park ride. Crabs have so many textures, colors, and bulges to their carapaces. Hard for me to paint them simply. I find as I get older that I am more and more fascinated by the possibilities for indicating such textures in more detail than I had in years past. I am using smaller and smaller brushes and even occasionally using a magnifying glass to see deeper into the subject.
15” X 22”
A little racing log canoe was built several years ago down on the lower Western Shore of the Chesapeake. A gentleman by the name of John Cooke very carefully planned her out, assembled the logs in much the traditional manner, faired her, and ended up with a jewel of a log canoe. I was invited to her christening. Her name is Eve. In attendance were many family friends, Pete Egelli (a famous artist), and some of his equally talented family members, log canoe sailors, the shipwright John Swain of Sultana fame, and with members of the CBMM staff and museum shipwrights. Earlier, it was the museum shipwrights who had finished a small log canoe, the Bufflehead, and had been racing her for a couple of seasons.
Both of these small boats, smaller than the smallest of the fleet mind you, are quite beautiful. The one from the museum had been an experiment of sorts. It was built to educate in a small way the shipwrights about the use of logs in the construction of a traditional log bottom boat. The real education came when they scaled it up to make a new log bottom for the bugeye, Edna Lockwood. So much local knowledge gets lost in the passage of time. I had always thought the mission of the museum was to capture, retain, and learn anew that knowledge. Individuals like John Cooke did a lot of planning and hands on learning about what those builders did before him. Eve is a beautifully outfitted log canoe. Her owners have a great sense of humor as the device on her kite is an apple with a bite taken out of it. I have painted and made prints of all the log canoes that are currently being campaigned. There are other log canoes quietly sleeping away, waiting to be awaken by someone with the love, care, and most of all the money to refit and in some instances rebuild them. Log canoes are not for the fiscally timid. These small canoes need some compatriots. Maybe with three more, they can then have their own fleet, to make the association requisite of five, so they can start with the larger canoes but race on shorter courses. There is an historical precedent. Many years ago, there were classes of canoes based on size. So…this print is the 17th of my log canoe series. A newer canoe was just finished a few years ago and her name is Caroline. She will be featured in next year’s log canoe print.
15” X 22”
This watercolor features a waterman with whom I spend a lot of time in the winter when he is hand tonging for oysters. I have painted him many times over the years. Very patient and generous with his time and opportunities for me to get out with him. It is from such watermen that I learn one hell of a lot of empirical knowledge about oysters and oystering, and the political pressures from environmentalists and the market. It is rather sad that many of our politicians do not make the effort to spend even just one whole working day with oystermen while thinking they are the only ones who can define their lives through legislation.
It is hard to trust that some of these delegates and senators understand the industry. Oyster politics have fascinated me for over 25 years now. I have read books, doctoral theses, watched countless documentaries, been part of many meetings, read the minutes of the meetings I could not attend, been to Annapolis to testify for and against bills using the knowledge I have been garnering over the years, and engaged in hundreds of hours of conversations with oyster biologists. I have no initials after my name that would make me an “expert,” but I can hold my own with many of those who have such credentials. Perhaps you can call me a citizen scientist. The word scientist implies firsthand observation, deductions based on understanding the observed, and conclusions based on facts and not coincidences. I do not mine my information from the comfort zone of shared opinions or from the many websites of siloed information. I seek information from many sources. I think that sometimes in my sleep that I am fabricating more succinct thoughts and stratagems than I had been while awake the day before. I wake up right away and start my day. Lately, I have felt the need to keep a notepad by the bed so as to be better equipped at remembering the correct phrasing. Then I can go back to sleep without trying to remember those things. I am focused just as this waterman is focused on the oysters in this grab of hand tongs. Look at his eyes. He’s looking for a sign to tell him he isn’t in the black mud and that the oysters are good, he is looking to see if he is on empty hatchery shell or on oysters, and if they are legal three inch (bigger or smaller), he is looking to see if the oysters are covered in spat, or if he sees a lot of boxes (dead oysters).
What are You Having for Breakfast?
14 ¼ “X 30”
There are mornings with watermen that are beyond my wildest expectations. This image is from one of many such mornings. We were fishing a pound net way up the Chester River, on a stretch the locals have called for centuries, “The Devil’s Reach.” When schooners, pinkies, and other colonial trading vessels would come to the port of Chestertown, this last stretch of the river with its strong current and tidal action coupled with contrary winds would sometimes force such sailing vessels to anchor out in the river to wait for the weather and tides to get together and allow them to make port. It had to be frustrating as one could have seen the town lights from up in the rigging. This truly glorious morning had it all.
Very calm waters, unhindered sunlight breaking the horizon and racing across the shore and waters to slam into the boats, the watermen, the nets, and the fish. Then out of the corner of my eye, the birds, osprey, seagulls, blue herons, along with mewling gulls completed the sight. All of these birds now know that when a net of any kind is being fished that there will be fish for them to eat. While fish may die in a pound net, it is rarely something for the Green Shirts to be alarmed about. Now that I say that I have a caveat. Some watermen do not fish their pound nets as often as they should and every now and then one will see a lot of dead fish, which are usually high-strung buggies, also known as menhaden. Yet, sports fishermen are quick to take photos and post them on all the social media platforms crying hysterically that watermen are killing all the fish and pound nets should be outlawed. One could think that from their carefully siloed information that they believe that all fish are from one young of the year class, that they are all wildly healthy, and that no fish is ever sick or weakened, that the waters of the rivers and Bay never experience have what is euphemistically called “bad water,” or that some elderly fish just get trapped and die. Back to the painting. The trapped fish are dipped from the pound net crib and deposited on the cull board. From there the watermen cull out the fish they have market for and are legal to keep. Up in the Devil’s Reach it is the white perch that get measured, no need to measure mud shad or buggies, invasive blue cats are kept, and market size channel cats are kept. This morning the other fish are put back overboard, somewhat stunned by the experience, but yet are able to swim away after a few seconds of reacclimating to being back in the river. It is interesting watching for the ripples that tell you they are conscious again, before they dive into deeper waters. This is not only interesting for me but for the myriad of birds looking for their breakfast. Osprey will swoop down and snatch a fish, bald eagles will also do so, though it seems as if they would prefer to engage in aerial dogfights with the osprey to try and take a fish away. Such dogfights are exciting to watch as both kinds of birds have different tactics. Screeching and jealous gulls swoop in to pick up any kind of fish, wiggling or not. What surprised me the most are the blue herons like the one in this painting. They will not only walk the lines of the pound net, like an aerialist, but will also land in waters too deep for their long legs, spear a fish and then use their extremely large wings to lift their lightweight bodies up out of the water to land on shore and eat their catch. Getting to watch and photograph this was an experience I won’t soon forget. And best of all I get to relive it when I go back to that shoot to find one such image to paint.
15” X 30”
One of the many advantages to digital photography that outweigh the use of film are the delete, crop, and edit features in most photo tools. I used to have to carefully manage my film and frames to make it to the end of the day. Now I can shoot as many as I would like, knowing I can delete if I didn’t get what I wanted. I can also take some of those images and crop them to select out of the image what it was that caused me to take the shot and change the composition to make a whole other shot. I had been oystering with 74-year-old Norman Gowe from Neavitt.
I count myself very lucky to have oystered with him for just a couple of times as he retired from oystering singlehandedly just last year. I will try to get out with him and his son this coming season as the family dynamic is very important to me. Anyway…I had quite a few shots of him hand tonging in the just risen early morning sunlight. I liked the play of that light on his wet gloves and the shafts of the tongs. So, I took one of the shots and cropped it down to just his hands, shafts, and background. Then went on to edit the others. For some subliminal reason I kept returning to this image. I even carried it around in my head until I realized it needed to be painted. But I have to add, I will put up a Fuji-Chrome 200 ISO well metered color slide against a digital image any day. Must be the dinosaur in me.
It Can Take Two
15” X 30”
A culler and a hand tonger. But there are single oystermen who do both. Hard men to say the least. In this instance it is T-Bone Turner and Tyrone Meredith. I got to work alongside T-Bone, who is also the mate on the head boat Island Queen, owned by Tyrone. I have gotten to know both of them quite well over the years. This is an angle I haven’t explored in my previous work. That is, including both men in a view from onboard. Hence the longer perspective. I am honored to be accepted into the world of oystermen and to be able to paint them at work, knowing that they trust me to tell the story correctly.
There has been an interesting change in the colors of oil skins. Traditionally they were a dark green. Now they can be orange, orange with yellow panels, white, and camouflage in all manner of patterns. It is nice to have such colors to work with. The oil skins are like punctuation in the composition. I used to look for arbitrary color and if I couldn’t find any, I would then pick one. I remember reading a story about Andrew Wyeth. He would be out painting and would reach behind him to his paint box for a color and not looking would get a tube of paint. He would then look at it and regardless of whatever color it would be he would then fit it in to the composition. Now that is arbitrary.
Off Hoopers Island
9 3/4” by 30”
The water is never the same. The light on and in the water is never the same. Some of that is what drives me to be out on the water as much as I can. Water is like the mirror the Zen Buddhists use in their koans (riddles). It holds whatever is in front of it as long as it is in front of it. Mind-like-mirror is the state of mind/no-mind they and I aspire to. Couple that with what surprises the harvesting can bring to the boat and you have a day of unexpected revelations. The water this day wasn’t whipped up by the winds and the only apparent textures were the high points to the random wavelets. If you look closely enough, you will see a number of oyster boats on the horizon.
A Wind Called Hubris/Silver Heel
10” X 30”
I have stated before about how “wally” or tender a log canoe can be. They seemingly have a personality that will betray you in the blink of an eye. Complacency is the enemy of a racing log canoe crew. I need not say any more about this image.
From a Distance
7” X 30”
I have been exploring the telephoto lens features in my camera. Using it at its maximum distance has created some looks reminiscent of the mirages of a desert with a variety of distortions. Blend that with the layer of cold air that is just off the water’s surface, and you have some near abstract images built into the photo. This watercolor is from such a photo taken at sunrise. I enjoy the apparent simplicity of it and the distorted yet recognizable shapes.
Headed Home/Pop’s Pride
7” X 30”
We were returning to Neavitt to put out our oysters, and I saw this workboat on its way home after the waterman had already put out his catch. I watched it motor across the glare of the sunlight on the waves of a late afternoon. While exploring the photo, I discovered so many subtle shades of blue. What you see now is the result of many glazes. I like the long, narrow compositions. While we live here on the Eastern Shore, it is a huge sky under which we live. I was told years ago that the sky pushes down real hard on things here on the Easter Shore. Montana has nothing on us. I have lived in North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kansas, Virginia, Japan, Burma, Italy, Colorado, and Michigan. I had never given much thought to living in a place as flat as this shore. It has grown on me over the years. Watching the terra forming of the farmers, the change in crops lit by so many times of day and types of light has endeared it to me. A reaction is my experimentation with long narrow compositions.
Have You Ever Seen It So Flat?
11 ½” X 30”
This day saw us leaving the creek in Rock Hall to power dredge for oysters just outside on Swan Point. The previous night was so cold it left windowpane ice in the creek to reflect, as Homer would say, the “rosy fingered dawn.” The channel of open water out to the Bay was as equally flat. One does not see water this flat very often. I was oystering with another father/son team with whom I had not worked before. On one occasion the dredge brought up a really well-made oyster hammer. So nice it could have been in an art gallery. In fact, I did a pen and ink of it later on. The men were amused as they had been sweeping their hammers off the cull board with the cultch. It had happened so many times before that their home-made hammers were tethered to the cull board to prevent losing anymore. Oyster hammers come in so many different designs, but all have the requisite three-inch measure and a chipping chisel-like edge on the other end. I find the ones with the indexed chisel the easiest to work with. I try to always have my own hammer and heavy-duty gloves when I go aboard to oyster. No reason for them to spend their good money providing me with the tools. Besides I have been gathering an interesting set of tools over the years. Kind of like a past president collecting national secret documents. They are neat to have.
Not a Particularly Nice Day
12” X 30”
Sometimes it is at the very beginning of the log canoe season that the excitement to get out there and start racing after a long hard winter overtakes good common sense. Ending up with the fleet captains working with the race committee to start races in really sketchy circumstances. Many years ago, a race committee acceded to the strident wishes of the captains. But the committee’s caveat was a series of conditions. They were: one sail, one time around. I got to shoot these incredible racing machines with all their crews out on the springboards of the canoes with just the fore sail. Opening day for the 2021 log canoe season was not a particularly nice day. Strong winds and lots of chop saw some captains decide on their own to sail under reduced sail. Some went without jibs, which makes for difficulties when tacking. Other decided to go without their main which made more sense. That day there were gear failures, a near mast failure caught just in time by an alert crew member, some board washing and a couple of capsizes. Fortunately, the first day of the new season sees just one race. Conditions the next day were somewhat more moderate. After painting over 450 watercolors of these log canoes I have recently decided to paint not just the grace, elegance, and beauty of these amazing racing machines but have started including the somewhat darker and awkward aspects of the sport.
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