I pay much closer attention to the visual arts these days. I've even begun to dabble a bit in painting. Pastels mostly, crayons for grown-ups. And that explains why I perked up more than a little when Tom Horton said he planned to write about Chestertown, Md. artist Marc Castelli in his column this month [see Horton at Large, page 64]. It also explains why I decided to swing by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels a few weeks ago, the last time I found myself on the Eastern Shore. (Funny how often I "find myself" on the Eastern Shore lately; if I had to guess, I'd say it has something to do with a little guy named Frankie, my first grandson, who lives in Salisbury, Md.)
The attraction at the museum was a new exhibit in its Steamboat Gallery, "Marc Castelli: The Art of the Waterman." It features 23 of Castelli's remarkable watercolor paintings of men at work on the Bay, most from the collection of the late Diane Simison of Tilghman Island, who passed away in May and left the paintings to the museum. At the time of my visit, the exhibit wasn't yet open to the public (though it will be by the time you read this, and will remain so through March 25), but I thought maybe they'd let me in for a quick peek. They did, and then some. Indeed, I got the VIP tour, courtesy of Tracey Munson, the museum's new director of marketing and media relations.
I agree with Tom Horton that Castelli's genius is in the workaday details--the frayed bill of a waterman's favorite hat, the tattered wood band around a bushel basket, the yellow-brown stain on the side of a workboat, left by tens of thousands of muddy crab pots. "In those minutiae he captures the essence of being a waterman," Tom writes, "the determined opportunism that allows them to turn a buck so many ways: eeling, whelking, turkling, tonging, dredging; drift-, pound- and fyke-netting; taking crabs by pot and scrape and trotline."
At Tom's suggestion, and with the artist's blessing, we've put some samples of Castelli's work
on our website. Of course this is merely a teaser; to fully appreciate the detail, the minutiae, you need to see a Castelli up close and full-size (they're big for watercolors, many nearly three feet across). A three-by-five-inch JPEG on your computer is just a start. It gives you a sense of Castelli's almost photographic precision, but it doesn't reveal the remarkable technique, the faint sketch lines, the hundreds of dabs and strokes that make up a patch of sky or a swirl of water or the grimy sleeve of an oysterman's sweatshirt.
It's really quite a stunning exhibit, and I strongly recommend it as a place to go and thing to do in the cold months ahead. I plan to go again--perhaps even to the opening reception, to which I wheedled an invitation from the aforementioned Ms. Munson (very accommodating, she). I understand Mr. Castelli will be there; perhaps he'll have some advice for me regarding crayons for grown-ups.