Friday, February 17, 2012

Ode to The Rock

A couple of years ago I started a painting on panel to recall my fond childhood memories of summers in Newfoundland, affectionately known as "The Rock". To start, I called my Mom to brainstorm on  ideas for themes that ought to be included. 


My mother was born and raised at South Dildo, Trinity Bay. This is a small fishing village where my Grandparents spent the better part of their lives. My Grandfather Malcolm Hollett was a fisherman in the waters of Trinity Bay, and I went out with him in his fishing boat on more than one occasion to help with squid jigging, hauling lobster pots and going after cod. We pulled up the odd Sculpin too, the ugliest fish known to man. 

Just in the past week or so I decided to dust off the long-neglected panel to pursue the finishing touches. Mind you, it still needs a bit of work, but I think it is coming along nicely.

At last count I came up with a grand total of twenty-four references to Newfoundland in this painting. There are probably a few more but I may have lost count.

Tell you what. I will run down to my studio and take some detail shots to see if I can tally up all of the pictorial references to the of my favorite places on the planet. Be right back.

An  iconic ice-berg floats benignly in the northern waters as a Viking ship slips by enroute to L'anse Aux Meadows, one of the earliest recorded points of contact from the Old World to the New. 
Lans Aux Meadows is situated on the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, where the first hardy souls dug in to settle alongside some of the richest fishing grounds on the planet. 
Puffins are just one of a menangerie of strange and exotic species that call Newfoundland home.
This fun-loving gal dons her best Sou'Western and oilskins to be 'Screeched In'. The willing codfish is thrust against her  lips in a fond, lingering kiss that she will always remember as the moment she became an 'Honorary Newfoundlander'. The Grand Banks off Nfld were once lauded as the epicenter of the richest Cod fisheries on the planet, 'till the stupid fucking, short-sighted politicians of the day were too cowardly and short-sighted to impose limitations on the Cod fishery (despite the repeated and very emphatic urgings of their own scientists of the day to do just that) , which were all but decimated near the turn of the 21st century, throwing thousands of fishers and fish plant workers out of gainful employment.
The iconic 'I <3 NY' is slightly modified in this instance when the shot-glass of the fine, world-famous Jamaican rum known affectionately as 'Screech' is raised to toast a continuation ad infinitum of good times on the Rock!
Hauling lobster pots are a time-honored tradition, life-style and livelihood for Newfoundland fishers who harvest some of the tastiest lobster in the world out of the chilly waters of the North Atlantic.
The national, er, provincial flower of Newfoundland is the wonderfully exotic 'Pitcher Plant', a carnivorous plant that lures its unsuspecting prey (of spiders and insects) into a sort of vessel that holds rainwater sweetened with its alluring scent. Once the potential meal is floundering in the liquid, a cap closes over as the teeth along its edges engage the interloper in a battle to the death. Of the bug. Just one of the many delights that make Nfld such a unique biosphere.
Lobster pots rest between deep dips into the frigid waters off the coast of Nfld.

In Newfoundland there is a long-held tradition that has people dress up (usually as members of the opposite sex for a suitably impenetrable disguise) to tromp through the streets of their towns and villages from door to door at Christmastime. The general idea is to trade a song or two for a dollop of Screech and hopefully a snack. It is not that unusual for this clandestine activity to carry on throughout the night until  sunrise. This is one movement that will never be suppressed.
'Kitchen Parties' are a staple of home-spun entertainment even long after the advent of mass media in the parlors of out-port Newfoundland. Many a youngster grew up surrounded by the strains of guitars, fiddles, spoons and a chorus of voices, spawning such great internationally-acclaimed acts as "Great Big Sea".

Heading out to the fishing grounds. Godspeed and happy jigging!

The Moose is Loose in Newfoundland. I heard a report on CBC radio not that long ago about the runaway moose population on the Rock. There are hundreds of thousands of these giant beasts roaming the island. They are so plentiful that they have become a mortal threat to travelers on the highways. You do NOT want to have a close encounter with one of these things when you're on the road, so please drive carefully.

The world-famous "Newfoundland Dog" is a hero to many, as they are well-known to be water rescue dogs. Built huge but extremely gentle, they are very powerful swimmers and are hard-wired to protect their human counterparts when floundering on the high seas.

In 1763 the final battle of the Seven Years War was fought at the Battle of Signal Hill in which the  french surrendered  St.John's to the British. On December 12 1901, the first transatlantic wireless transmission was received here by Guglielmo Marconi. 

A squid fisherman shows off an exceptionally large specimen. In the past, squid was used mostly as bait for lobster pots but in more recent times, the squid has been recognized as a delicacy in its own right. Calamari anyone?

It is not that unusual to spot any number of whale species in the coastal waters of Newfoundland. I have had very close encounters with so-called 'Pot-Head' whales while bobbing in the waters of Trinity Bay on fishing trips. But that is another story!
'Bake-Apples' are one of a wide variety of berries available for picking in the lush evergreen forests and boggy marshes of Nfld. These are a wonderful treat that my Grandmother would 'put by' in Mason jars for the winter months.
A common mode of transport to and from the 'mainland' is by ferry boat from Port-Aux-Basques to North Sydney, N.S. It is about an eight to ten hour journey that we often took as kids. Usually it would be an overnight trip. It was always such a welcome sight to spot land ho after all that time over the deep in the fairly restricted confines of the boat..
In my Grandfather's day, and my Great-Grandfather before him, lobster pots were a hand-made affair. It took special skills and materials to manufacture these highly effective traps, passed down from one generation to the next. I wonder if they are still hand-made to this day?  I imagine so.

Always proud to don the 'Sou'Wester' I allowed myself to be present in the form of a little self-portrait in lieu of a signature in this painting. 
I hope you enjoyed the tour of this painted panel, which is my homage to the wonderful memories of idyllic childhood days spent on 'The Rock'. I am sure that there are many many more things of interest and general fascination that I could have, should have included in this project. Sure, I could jam in a few more things. If you think of any glaring omissions I would be delighted to at least entertain the idea.

This just in. 

My Mom chimed in today with a clarification that I thought I would share: "Your 'Tribute' is amazing, I thoroughly enjoyed viewing it.  However, I do have one minor (not really) correction you should probable make to your preamble.  Your grand-father didn't fish off the Grand Banks for lobster. Instead, that's where the larger fishing schooners fished for cod fish and as you may remember your grand-father had only a small fishing boat that he used for on-shore fishing.  Sure he trapped lobster in later years, but you must remember, as far as I know, they hang out in more shallow waters around rocks.  (I may be wrong about the rocks, but I seem to remember something to that effect). One other little detail. The custom around the Christmas visiting is called mummering to-day, but years ago it was called jannying.  By the way it is making a big come-back, especially aroung St. John's, where there is a mummers' festival, which I think is in its fourth or fifth year.  There was a very interesting article in a recent issue of the Downhome magazine.  You could probably access it on their web page if you're interested."

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