Get to Know a Waterman

The Bay’s endangered humans come to life in these exhibits

Once upon a time, if you lived in Chesapeake Country, you probably worked the water. Nowadays, you probably don’t. Statistics are against it.
    Open the current edition of Waterman’s Gazette, and smack in the center of the monthly publication of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, you’ll read the legend: Endangered Species: Watermen of the Chesapeake. On the same page, right next to photos of real live specimens of this endangered species, you’ll see Marc Castelli’s watercolor Looking for the Brass Ring, one of his 23 paintings now showing at Annmarie Garden in Solomons.
    Castelli, a devotee of the “deep and profound magic in the light carried by the wind on the water,” has made a career of photographing and painting this endangered species.
    “I spend hundreds of hours each year out on the water with the watermen who have learned that they can trust me to paint the truth of their lives,” the Eastern Shore artist writes at www.marc-castelli.com. “I have discovered that by gaining their trust and being allowed to go out with them, they reveal the nobility of themselves and their work to me in an unconscious manner that needs no embellishment.”
    His scenes are straight from life. “Who am I to change things around?” he asks his viewers. Each begins as a photo, chosen from thousands. With the handwork of paint and brush, he brings the scenes to life. Seen close up, the washes and lines are abstractions of color. Step back, and the paint forms real people at real places in real moments in time. As in life, these clammers, crabbers, oystermen and pound-netters, their tools and their catch, burst with energy.
    After you’ve visited Marc Castelli: The Art of the Waterman, you’ll find another exhibit about watermen just down the road, freshly hung at Calvert Marine Museum.
    Walk up the stairs to the museum’s Mezzanine Gallery and you find yourself face to face with 28 working watermen and women photographed straight on in black and white and blown up — some almost life-sized — by Glen McClure of Norfolk, Virginia.
    Endangered Species: Watermen of the Chesapeake “draws attention to the human story,” says Jim Langley, the museum’s curator of exhibits, who is himself stewed in at least three generations of life in Solomons, a town that grew up working the water. “We do our best to make people aware of what was going on so that they can appreciate what we still have left.”
    In addition to McClure’s photos, the museum has hung some of its own collection of water-working photos by Baltimore Sun photojournalist A. Aubrey Bodine.
    It’s no coincidence that these two exhibits are back to back. They come together as Turning Tides: Life on the Chesapeake Bay, a joint project of the two museums.
    “This history is part of our heritage, and as an institution dedicated to preserving both the life and heritage of the Chesapeake, it’s as much our responsibility to share it as it is to teach good stewardship,” says Sherrod Sturrock, deputy director of Calvert Marine Museum.
    Endangered Species opens this week, with photographer McClure at Calvert Marine Museum on Friday, Sept. 14, to talk about his work (www.calvertmarinemuseum.com). His exhibit — lent by the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia — is on display through the end of December.
    When Art of the Waterman opened last month, Castelli led a painting-by-painting storytelling tour. He returns in January with a slideshow of his photos to talk about A Year on the Water. His ­exhibit, lent by Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, hangs through Feb. 24 (www.annmariegarden.org).
    On Nov. 17, Pete Lesher, curator of exhibits at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, visits both museums to talk about the shows.
    The twin shows are complemented by Annmarie Garden visiting artist Kaitlin Pomerantz, who’ll work with all comers daily Sept. 21 thru Oct. 19 to create a community art project, an eco-sculpture inspired by oyster middens, prehistoric piles of discarded shell.
    Preserving the culture of water-working is also part of the mission of Annmarie Garden, where a bronze oyster tonger welcomes visitors to the sculpture garden and art gallery.
    “It’s a perfect collaboration,” says Annmarie executive director Stacey Hann-Ruff. “The stars are aligned.”