Connected \\ July 6, 2021
A word with Curator Dan Finamore on summer exhibition In American Waters
A visitor gets a shot of the Norman Rockwell painting in the exhibition.
Q: How are contemporary artists like Kay WalkingStick expanding our understanding of maritime art?
The artist Kay WalkingStick with PEM’s Curator of Native American and Oceanic Art and Culture, Karen Kramer, during the opening of In American Waters.
A: Kay WalkingStick has presented us with a very contemporary view of a modern coastline. There's a stone breakwater, which tells us immediately this is not a reflection on ancient history or anything to that extent. It's just an artist who is standing on the shore looking out to sea. Yet she has also infused the painting with the understanding that people have been living on the land and standing there, looking out to sea for a very, very long time, before there was a nation called America, during the entire time of American history, today, and long into the future. She's created this timeless image that grounds us both in today and also across time in a very broad-based way.
Q: Can you describe the multisensory experience of this exhibition?
A: A good portion of the show is organized from the perspective of the viewer, from the artist, and then, again, from those of us who walk into the gallery, standing on the shore, looking out to sea, standing on the deck of a boat that is in nearshore waters, participating in a deep-water overseas voyage, walking through an urban port city. In that sense, it's a very emotional, very visceral kind of first-hand experience. What we really want to do is evoke people's imaginative perspective on their own personal experiences, if they have deep knowledge and experience of the sea, or to craft that for people who have not been to sea and to relate firsthand what artists have experienced and how they've translated it for people.
A visitor in the exhibition during the opening weekend.
Q: What is the composition of a typical ship portrait and how does it convey maritime culture?
A: Ship portraiture is interesting simply because it's called portraiture. We reserve that word in art for a very few subjects. If I were to paint a picture of a house, for instance, it would be a painting of a house. If I painted a pile of fruit, it would be a still life. If I paint a ship, which is a human construction, it becomes a portrait as if this is an animate object. Once they are launched, they are on the sea and so they are thought of as more living entities than any other human constructions. With regard to a ship portrait, the artist will also focus on specific attributes of the ship that convey similar kinds of information, usually augmenting the positive attributes, of course, with a ship that's newly launched. Also focusing in on those things that other people will really look at and notice. The flags that may convey the name of the vessel or the ownership of the vessel. The figurehead, which is that symbolic element that conveys the emotional character that they want to imbue the ship with. It is an overall picture, but it's also one that highlights desirable attributes.
William Trost Richards. Along the Shore, 1903. Oil on canvas. Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2009.1. Photography by Steven Watson
In American Waters is on view until October 3 before it moves to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, PEM’s partner in the exhibition.
TOP IMAGE: James Edward Buttersworth (1817 - 1894). Yacht Racing off Sandy Hook, about 1877. Oil on canvas. Collection of Alan Granby and Janice Hyland.