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Lost and Found

The rediscovered Chesapeake woodcuts of Eastport’s Philip McMartin

When Philip McMartin arrived in 1963, Annapolis was still a watermen’s town with workboats coming and going.
    The 33-year-old journalist-photographer-filmmaker-sailor had fallen under the spell of the water, which drew him to Eastport, where he and his wife and four children lived a stone’s throw from Back Creek.
    McMartin was fascinated by the rugged independence of life on the water. He carved images of Chesapeake watermen, skipjacks, schooners, log canoes, tug boats and Annapolis City Dock packed with workboats.
    Over five years, from 1968 to 1972, the self-taught artist created a remarkable series of 18 large woodcuts.
    McMartin printed a few early woodcuts on rice paper and on stretched canvas. The woodcuts were then set aside in his house and never printed again.
    When McMartin died in 2009, his woodcuts passed to son Jim McMartin on the Eastern Shore.
    As the aged and brittle woodblocks are too fragile to run through a press, master printer Kevin Garber hand-printed them in limited editions of 20 each. McMartin handcrafted maple frames for the resurrected images of his father’s large-scale woodcuts.
    “My father left for us his unique expression of his connection to the Chesapeake,” says Jim McMartin. “Bringing the woodcuts back to life after all this time and seeing them so well received is very gratifying.”
    Those images had their first public viewings last year, first at The Academy Art Museum in Easton then at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
    Now they’re on display at The Eastport Gallery.
    “I was blown away when I saw them,” says gallery owner Joanie Surette. Photographer Marion Warren’s business partner and friend in the last years of his life, Surette is the official curator of Warren’s work.
    “I’ve seen a lot of Chesapeake-based art,” Surette says. “But I’ve never seen the Bay portrayed quite like this. To have this body of work surface out of nowhere is really exciting.”

See for yourself thru December 24 at The Eastport Gallery, 419 Fourth St., Annapolis: 410-268-2898; www.TheEastportGallery.com.