Friday, April 5, 2013

Gnomes, Fairies and Ferries

Canneries provide a dynamic economic engine for Petersburg.  Here, species ranging in size from halibut bigger than our front door to shrimp the size of my little finger, herring, black cod, crab with names like King, Tanner and Dungeness, and salmon with names like Pink, Chum, Coho, Sockeye and there’s the name King again, all find new homes in cans and frozen packaging.  We pass these canneries whenever we head out in a boat for a day in search of ocean and mountain vistas, glaciers, icebergs, whales or maybe just hours of beach combing on a remote shoreline.  Invariably, on those days in this wild corner of the world, the first and last photos on Karen’s camera are urban subjects with that Alaska flair  --  the harbor and the canneries. 

One recent image in particular struck me.  Not the boats, not the eagles perched on the masts of the boats, not the mountains that frame the eagles perched on the masts of the boats, but rather a row of rain gear hanging on hooks just feet from where all those marine delicacies made landfall.  It “felt” like an image from John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.  It spoke to me of expectation, of hardship, of readiness to work in whatever weather southeast Alaskan storms would throw at those cannery workers.

I wanted to paint it.  So, I did.  I liked the abstract shapes formed by the windows, the support post, the raincoats.  Still my piece seemed bland.  Ah, maybe this was meant to be another gnome painting.  I sketched a proposal but it, too, seemed uninspired.   Obviously there was only one solution.  Karen!  When it comes to mapping right brains, she’s out on the most creative flank of the bell curve.  Sure enough, in seconds I had my inspiration.  For a right brainer a gnome does not drag a fish by the mouth.  It uses the neck even though fish don’t have necks.  Mama gnome does not help by pulling with papa gnome.  She pushes.  And of course a right brainer puts in a fairy.

Thus, After Hours on the Loading Dock became a collaboration between us.  I may have “manufactured” the painting, but Karen was the inventor.

                     After Hours on the Loading Dock    12 X 16 inches    Alkyd on Canvas
We finished “After Hours on the Loading Dock” in early spring, 2012, never knowing how “prophetic” it was.  Within a month the Alaska ferry Matanuska, maneuvering to land at the Petersburg Ferry Terminal, found itself caught in a current pointed straight at Ocean Beauty Seafoods -- the dock in our painting.  The two met in a way in which boat captains strive not to make landings.  Now this is a long dock with lots of targets for a ferry.  So where did the Matanuska use the cannery as an alternative braking system? -- the spot where I had painted in Karen’s fairy.  

Fairy or ferry -- they’re pronounced the same in the strange language we call English.  That’s no problem for a right brainer like Karen.

If you want to see a YouTube video of the actual event. check out

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