Twilight on the Fish Pier

Facebookgoogle_plusredditpinterestmail

Lobster fishing may conjure images of colorful old salts hauling wooden lobster traps into their dories. The reality, as I tried to show in Twilight on the Fish Pier, is much different. At least it is here in Stonington, Maine.

twilight-on-the-fish-pier
Twilight on the Fish Pier, oil on canvas

Stonington lands more lobsters than any other place in Maine and possibly the planet. That’s quite an achievement considering only about a thousand people live here. But the question nags: How long can Stonington fishermen continue to haul a living out of the sea? As the ocean gets warmer, the lobster keep moving north. Everyone in town wonders if — and some wonder when — the lobster will migrate to Canada. In the past year, we have all heard the words, “If the lobster go away…”

So my painting also poses a visual question: Is the lobster industry in its twilight?

Lobstering

Last year, fishermen (and, increasingly, fisherwomen) landed 119,640,379 pounds of lobster in Stonington. Fishing accounts for about three-quarters of the town’s economic activity.  Fishermen sink a lot of money into their fishing businesses. Boats cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and traps — you can use 800 at a time — cost about $100 each.

Stonington, located at the southern tip of Deer Isle, juts into Penobscot Bay. It’s an inlet of the Gulf of Maine, where lobster congregate more densely than anywhere else in the world. One reason for the abundance of lobsters may be the demise of cod, which prey on lobster. The cod fisheries are pretty much exhausted, though I did hear some cod have been spotted recently.

Lobster fishermen generally use herring as bait, but federal regulators have limited the herring catch. That makes bait expensive and hard to get; “bait crisis” is another expression you might hear around here.

China

There’s a common misperception about Stonington lobsters that has become obvious lately. Ryan McCaskey, a two-star Michelin chef, is opening a seafood restaurant in our little town. The restaurant, Acadia House Provisions, has already gotten national press attention. Forbes called it ‘the summer’s hottest pop-up restaurant.’

Some reporters have written that McCaskey’s restaurant should help local lobster fishermen. They apparently assume Stonington’s  fishermen sell their lobster to local restaurants. That would mean 120 million pounds of lobster are eaten locally — or 120,000 pounds per capita.

Um, no. A lot of the lobster goes to China. Once the fishermen catch the lobster, many of them take it to the Fish Pier, where the supply chain to China begins. Big refrigerated trucks take them off the island. The sound of engines, both marine and automotive, is as familiar here as the wail of the foghorn.

When President Trump hit China with tariffs, China hit back with tariffs on lobster.  That has caused a good deal of anxiety here. China’s tariff dwarfs the Mueller report as a topic of conversation. But so far, it seems, so good. Some middlemen are selling lobsters to Canada, who sell them to China.

So it isn’t quite twilight on the fish pier. And it may never be. But there are definitely clouds on the horizon.

Facebookgoogle_plusredditpinterestmail

I Paint The Marge Because My Subconscious Told Me To

Facebookgoogle_plusredditpinterestmail

I finished this painting a few weeks ago, and I decided to call it The Marge. Marge as in Margin or Marginal.

Technically, I suppose, it shows a figure (as usual, my husband Dan) walking the beach at Scott’s Landing. Scott’s is a preserve where the northern edge of Deer Isle meets the Eggemoggin Reach. Scott’s Landing used to be the ferry landing, but since 1938 the Deer Isle Bridge has carried people across the reach from the mainland.

The Marge, though, isn’t just about the margin that divides the land and the sea, it’s also about the space where light meets shadow. The liminal space, the space of transformation, of discovery, of anticipation. (Dan is anticipating finding blue beach glass.)

To me, the painting is about the subconscious meeting the conscious, something I’ve had reason to think about – a lot – lately. Because art to me has always been about reaching into the subconscious, figuring out what it’s trying to tell me. I suspect it’s exceedingly bossy.

Marge Moments

Sometimes I have marge moments where I understand how my subconscious is steering me. One day I figured out how it ordered me to pick up a ginko leaf.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I took an abstract painting class at The Art League in Alexandria, Va., and I had to find a symbol.

I couldn’t decide. Then one rainy fall Saturday I went into the city to visit the National Gallery of Art. Afterward I walked back through the nearly empty streets to the Judiciary Square Metro stop, and I looked across the plaza at the Canadian Embassy.

Despite the Brutalist architecture I have fond feelings toward that embassy. I had a friend there, a public relations officer named Doug, who started his career as a stand-up comic in a Toronto nightclub with Howie Mandel. Then he went into the military, where I got to know him when he was with NORAD (long story, I was a reporter, he was a public relations officer). Then Doug went to the Canadian Embassy. He invited me to monthly luncheons with Canadian diplomats and military officers, along with U.S. business and government types. The food was great, the conversation interesting, and Doug always delivered a wildly funny monologue straight out of Monty Python.

marge-canadian-embassy
The Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

So on that rainy Saturday I was walking to my Metro stop and I caught a glimpse of the red maple leaf on the Canadian flag fluttering above the embassy. Then I looked down and spied a yellow ginko leaf plastered onto the dark wet sidewalk. I knew instantly that was my symbol for my painting class. And then, moments later, I realized why: because of my pleasant thoughts about the Canadian Embassy.

Yikes, I thought. My subconscious is in charge.

Cleveland Museum of Art

Which brings me to Janet Moore.

I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and as a little girl I spent hundreds of hours in the Cleveland Museum of Art. A print from the museum, Renoir’s Mademoiselle Lacaux, gazed at me from my bedroom wall.

When I got older I’d walk to the museum and hang out with the American and European painters. I always visited J.M.W. Turner’s Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.

marge-burning-houses-parliament
Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons. Turner captures the marge where fire meets air meets water.

I loved the Impressionists, like Monet’s The Red Cape.

marge-red-cape
The Red Cape. Another marge: inside meets outside.

And I always found David’s Cupid and Psyche entertaining.

marge-cupid-psyche
Cupid and Psyche. There’s something about his expression.

There often weren’t many people in the museum, and I got in the habit of roaming around, glancing at paintings until one really grabbed me.  I was in the Marge Zone.

Fast forward a bunch of decades and I moved to Deer Isle, Maine. Definitely the Marge Zone, the place where land meets sea and urban corporate nomads meet island fishermen descended from generations of island fishermen.

Janet Moore

A few weeks ago a dear old friend from Shaker Heights came to visit. Her name is Janet, and I remembered she was named after a woman named Janet. An artist from Shaker Heights who moved to Deer Isle.

When Janet arrived I got the full story.

Janet Moore (read more about her here) was curator of children’s education at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her father taught at Dartmouth and had a summer home on Sand Beach Road in Deer Isle. When he died, he left the house to her, and she retired there.

I realized I had seen Janet Moore many times as a school girl on field trips to the museum. She would take us around to several paintings and talk about them. I’m sure she taught me to love Turner’s Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.  In 1968 she distilled what she’d been telling us into a book, The Many Ways of Seeing An Introduction to the Pleasures of Art.

the-marge
The Marge. Oil on Canvas.

Back to the Marge

I wonder: Did my subconscious tell me to paint Dan hunting beach glass at Scott’s Landing because I loved that cadmium red cloak Monet painted?

I also wonder: Janet Moore certainly helped me feel at home in art museums. Because I feel at home in museums, do I feel at home on Deer Isle, as she did?

Questions to ponder.

 

Facebookgoogle_plusredditpinterestmail