Sad day in Menemsha

There was a major fire in the fishing village of Menemsha yesterday. The coast guard boathouse and several docks burned down to the waterline. It happened quickly and as of this morning there are no reports of major injuries. The other miracle of this story is that the wind was blowing out to sea. Within a few feet of the burning structure on the inland side are the historic fishing shacks that line the basin. They are bare wooden shacks, many of which are simply  standing wooden tinderboxes…and most of which are working boathouses for the few remaining commercial fishermen on the island. Had the wind turned, they all would have been gone and with them the history and charm of that tiny island village.

There are reports of bravery this morning of fisherman who towed flaming but untethered boats out of danger and away from the gas station on the other side of the harbor, and firefighters who managed to control and contain the blaze, and townspeople who set up watering and cooling stations and helped to clear the roads for emergency vehicles.

This is the Vineyard. They know how to take care of each other.

Shortly after the fire began there were reports filtering onto Facebook and via local TV stations. Pat got the news and came over to the studio to let me know. Earlier that  morning we had picked up the big paintings for this summer’s show from the photographer and I was in the process of framing this…

For most of the winter the shacks and boats and birds and scenery of Menemsha were my companions as I took care to faithfully render the rigging and shingles and horizon full of houses.

Like many generations of artists, I have been drawn to the historic charm and beauty of the fishing village. My own tastes tend to  run toward the somewhat grittier side of the working aspects of the place. The way the detritis of the commercial fishermen, their boats and gear and comings and goings, make for a constantly evolving composition. Lobster pots and long lines, bouys and traps, pulpits and netting all get tossed around by the wind, the tides and the human hands that haul them to bring in the catch of the day.

And if you hang around long enough, and show up when the tourists have left for the day…or the season… the light that is so strong and ever changing on that island will reveal hidden treasures of beauty. For the last couple years I have concentrated on trying to capture some of what I see there  and have used the challenge of the large canvas to find my way into the corners,  behind the boathouses, and between the shadows of Menemsha.

As I look back now, the focus has been pulling outward…

from the closeup of the swordfishing troller Strider’s Surrender…

to the larger view of the boats and shacks Out Back O’ The Galley…

and opening wide up to the basin as seen from the top of Crick Hill just after dawn on a late October morning…

And in all of those paintings the Coastguard Boathouse can be seen. At first just a hint of the end of the dock to the left of the Strider. Then a sliver of white with the famous red shingled roof at the end of the road to the left of the big shack Out back of the Galley.

And this year, sadly the final portrait… it is the first building to catch the full morning sun at the far right of the painting and, weighed down by the gaggle of seabirds, it serves as an anchor.

Sadly today there is a new horizon…

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~ by hnartisan on July 13, 2010.

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