By SAM BUNGEY
A painting of a well-known Menemsha-based trawler by Heather Neill has been given to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum by an anonymous donor. The eight by four-foot painting, titled Strider’s Surrender, evokes the decline the local fishing industry.
The Quitsa Strider II is owned by respected Island fishermen Jonathan Mayhew. In a move symbolic of the dire state of the local fishing industry, Mr. Mayhew sold his federal permits last year, giving up his license and putting up the vessel itself for sale.
In an interview with the Gazette Mr. Mayhew said that fishing commercially is no longer financially viable, due to a combination of fuel prices and government regulations.
In an effort to curb over-fishing, the federal government imposed a system of limiting the number of so-called days at sea that fishermen could ply their trade. The decision has had a crippling effect on smaller, independent operations.
Ms. Neill began the painting after reading of Mr. Mayhew’s decision to quit the fishing business. But the artist, who has been coming to the Vineyard for 20 years, has long made a muse of the boat which is often docked at the back of the Menemsha fish markets.
“I have literally taken 3,000 photographs of that boat,” she said. “Everything it has — the rust, the chains, ropes, the netting — speaks to me of beauty. The change in color where the boat meets the water line.”
The painting is currently hanging at the Granary gallery in West Tisbury, where it has been the centerpiece of an exhibition of Heather Neill which opened July 20. The painting sold at the opening for $75,000. The buyer decided to make a tax-deductible donation to the museum, who will then buy the art using the funds.
Chris Morse, who owns the gallery and is also chairman board of directors for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, got in touch with museum executive director Keith Gorman to help facilitate the arrangement.
Several factors conspired to allow Ms. Neill to produce the painting this year. First, she moved into a bigger studio, in Manchester, Pa.
She also acquired a new easel strong enough, and with the right counterbalance, to handle and maneuver big canvasses.
“I thought, what’s the biggest, largest painting I can do in here?” she said. She continued:
“Then, the most important thing was reading the Gazette article [about Mr. Mayhew]. The story in the paper drove the narrative in the painting. It disturbs me to see family-owned businesses across the country gobbled up by the Wal-Marts and the big corporations.”
Originally Ms. Neill had planned to paint a detail of the dragger rather than the large section of the boat depicted in the final canvas. She had sketches of the rope seen on the right of the final canvas and had a working title of Taut for the piece.
“It was this single rope holding a huge boat to land . . . But I realized the boat had to be the story,” she said.
Prominent in the painting is a length of frayed white cloth snagged on the rigging and fluttering in the wind.
“Is a piece of canvas sail cloth, the white flag of surrender,” she said, “It’s also a throwback to tall ships that went out under sail. They’ll soon all be replaced by plasticky things. Also the boat is still holding on to it, it’s not ready to let go of its mission.”
Ms. Neill said she is humbled by the attention the painting has received and happy it will go to the museum to be viewed and preserved.
“It’s much more profound for me for it to be in a museum. I spend a lot of the winter studying the history of the Island. The things I’m drawn to are the older parts of the Island. To have something I did be part of that is really great,” Ms. Neill said.