Story courtesy Maine Lobster Festival
Last month we explored how the iconic crustacean got its close-up in our blog, “Lobster in Pop Culture: How Lobsters are Portrayed in Movies.” To continue the series, this month we’re spotlighting Maine artists who have portrayed lobster and fishermen as the subject in various forms of artwork.
Paintings & Drawings
Many artists draw inspiration from their surroundings, including the following artists who incorporate lobsters into their work.
We’ll start with Maine’s most notable painting family, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth — all three artists created multiple paintings featuring lobstermen at work. N.C Wyeth’s “The Lobsterman (The Doryman)” created in 1944, is set in the coastal regions of Maine, depicting a solitary lobsterman in a dory. Andrew Wyeth’s 1937 watercolor “Lobsterman” tells the story of a hard-working lobsterman tending to his wooden traps. And in 2019, Rockland’s prominent cultural institution, Farnsworth Art Museum, featured an exhibition by Jamie Wyeth that revealed a man enjoying his just-cooked lobster in the 2013 painting “The Lobster Bib-Third in a Suite of Untoward Occurrences on Monhegan Island.”
Belfast artist and educator Susan Tobey White has painted a series called Lobstering Women of Maine featuring women who work in today’s lobster fishing industry. The series, now turned into a book, also highlights Maine’s oldest female lobster fisherman, Virginia Olivera, 103, who still works on a boat and is known worldwide as the “Lobster Lady.”
Native Maine artist Andrew Cook takes a whimsical approach to his art under the name “Lobstering is an art.” Each design features the shape of a lobster, but every drawing is interpreted through a particular concept — whether it’s sea glass, a NYC subway, or an island. You have to see it to understand. Hollis believes in the industry’s value to Maine so much that he donates regularly to various organizations, including the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
Ogunquit artist Amy Kelly has a fascinating story: At age 56, she asked a local lobsterman if she could work as a sternman for him to maintain her sobriety. She went from being homeless to working hard on the harbor, gaining back her sobriety, and photographing and printing large-scale lobster tail artworks, which are now sold all over the country. After that, she became a gallery owner of TaleSpinStudio.
JewelryTenley Seiders, a Midcoast jewelry maker, got inspired to make jewelry and ornaments from discarded lobster shells after sterning on a lobster boat when she was younger. Her process involves pulverizing the shells with a mortar and pestle, then sifting the crushed shell with a strainer, according to a profile in PenBay Pilot. Her business, called Lobster Designs, features vivid, handcrafted jewelry with each piece unique in color, texture and markings.
Wall Hangings & Sculptures
Appleton artist Eric Darling upcycles discarded lobster rope he finds on the shore into artistic wall hangings and sculptures featuring nautical themes. Calling it his “drift rope project” as seen on wmtw.com , this colorful rope, which would have ended up in a landfill, is woven into scenes, which he describes as “painting with rope.” He prefers to work with old rope that’s been handled by lobstermen and has been seasoned in the ocean for a few years. See his work at his website.
MLF Lobster Posters
Beyond Maine Lobster Festival’s support of local working artists with its annual Arts & Crafts Tent, the Festival has commissioned numerous artists over the years to use their paintings in each year’s Festival poster. For example, Jean Kigel was the artist for the 2023 Maine Lobster Festival poster. Her painting depicted two red lobsters shaking claws. And check out the gorgeous posters from past years in our Poster Store (only $10 each!)
Come to the 77th Maine Lobster Festival for free again this year (July 31 to Aug. 4, 2024) and you will be sure to meet some of the most interesting local artists, writers, lobstermen, and colorful community volunteers you’ve ever encountered! For more info, visit: https://mainelobsterfestival.com
As a reporter for a local newspaper, I often cover lobstering stories in Maine and occasionally come across some very cool things that Maine crafters and artists are making around the lobster theme. I really strive to put a spotlight on the creatives. Here is my 2020 Shop Local Gift Guide for the person in your life who loves Maine lobster and our beautiful state.
The original Lobstah Beer Caddy and Dog Food Station
Joe Hamilton is the artist behind these lobster trap creations and the first in the state to create the lobster trap caddy, perfect for six of Maine's best craft beers. You can find these on Etsy for $39.99 The pet stand, also made from the same galvanized wire that lobstermen use to construct traps are custom made. Made for small, medium and large dogs ($60/$85/$150). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for orders.
Maine Snowflake Ornaments
Tenley is a self-taught jewlery designer who also once worked as a sternman on her boyfriend's lobster boat, (now husband!) Hating to see lobster shells thrown away after consumption, she got the idea to make beautiful ornaments and jewelry from discarded shells from lobsters, mussels and oysters--and tell the back story to each one as it related to area lobstermen. To find her creations ($25/ornaments and vibrant red jewelry visit her Etsy store, Lobster Designs.
Rugged Lives of Female Lobstermen
Camden author Ali Farell's second book, showcases the strength of Maine’s female fishermen, titled Pretty Rugged: True Stories From Women of the Sea. “Fishing is a lifestyle, not a job,” Farrell commented in a Penobscot Bay Pilot article. “To be a successful fisherman, you must devote your life to working extremely hard in very dangerous conditions.”
The book is finally available for preorder on Amazon ($32.99) with shipments anticipated in time for Christmas. FMI: Facebook.
Gourmet Lobster Crackers
In 2012, Pat Havener and her husband, Friendship lobsterman Greg Havener, were trying to brainstorm ways to make up lost income from the plummeting price of lobster. They came up with two ideas: lobster crackers for dogs and lobster crackers for people. The crackers, which are the only type of its kind in the U.S., were named “Best New Product—Specialty Food” in spring of 2015 at the New England Made Giftware Specialty Food Show. See my story on at Penobscot Bay Pilot
You can buy a box ($10) on their website
Note, I wrote this story for Penobscot Bay Pilot.
APPLETON— In most paintings of Maine islands, conspicuously absent is the debris and junk that regularly washes up onto its shorelines. A lot of it tends to be ghost gear— lobster traps that have been smashed apart by the weather and have drifted to shore in mangled pieces.
Appleton artist Abbie Read, whose family owns property on Matinicus Island, noticed the junk along the shoreline and decided to haul piece by piece back to the mainland. No, not to the dump, to her studio.
“I spend a lot of time on Matinicus and for years, I’ve been collecting these little pieces of broken, rusted traps and all of the parts,” she said.
Read said she’d haul back the unsightly debris from the island to the mainland and store them in her studio, unsure of what would become of it.
“I always had it in the back of my mind I’d make something with the pieces,” she said. “Then, last spring when Waterfall Arts held a call for artists on the theme of Intertidal Zones, I began to assemble all of the pieces into an installation. For me, all of the junk that gets washed up on Matinicus was perfect for that theme.”
After the Waterfall Arts show concluded, the community arts center allowed Read to hang the installation on the second floor wall by the stairway, where it now resides indefinitely. Only those familiar with the lobster industry will notice some of the details in the rigging. Woven throughout the pieced-together grids of the wire traps are discarded bait bags, nylon netting, a plastic escape hatch, old frayed warp. Broken and lost gear is an economic hardship lobster fishermen know only too well. These unglamorous workaday pieces of fishing gear have now transformed into a tribute to the many unknown generations of lobstermen.
But, there is one more layer to this installation; and one has to know Abbie Read’s particular style of work to catch it. Within the rigging, which is patched up like a crazy quilt from various broken traps, are subtle grids made from linen thread that Read has constructed, which mimic the gridwork of the broken traps and blends right into the exhibit. These handmade nets also lace across her multimedia collages, which often incorporate altered books, maps, found objects and natural materials such as stone.
Read isn’t done with the piece.
“I stopped working on it because I ran out of materials,” she said. “But, I still plan of adding to it, it’s just a matter of being able to haul this stuff back from the island. I call it an ongoing project because it will get bigger. It no longer fits in my studio.”
For now the piece can be seen at Waterfall Arts.
For more information visit: Abbie Read and Waterfall Arts
Columns and news about the subculture of Maine lobstering.