Brier Island is the last of two islands jutting beyond a narrow 25 mile long peninsula called The Digby Neck; beginning West from the port town of Digby in Southwest Nova Scotia . The peninsula separates Saint Mary's Bay from The Bay of Fundy as both bodies meet the Atlantic Ocean. and the Gulf of Maine. When you are on Brier Island's West shore you know you are 'in' the Atlantic. There is no sight of land in three directions as the sun sets on a water horizon.Both Long Island (1st island) and Brier Island had volcanic births. Their Saint Mary's side (south) boast basalt cliffs roughly correspondent to both Iceland and Ireland. Their Fundy side (north) reveal sinks with pockets of solidified lava between rock ledges segmented with crisscrossing veins of quartz, agate and iron.Westport is the name of the village on Brier Island. It hugs a sheltered crescent harbor just out of the tidal current of Grand Passage that separates the islands. The ferry distance across Grand Passage to Freeport, Long Island is roughly a mile. As to the strength of that current, well.. if you fell into it. either incoming (high) or outgoing (low) you're likely to have drifted 10 miles away in an hour's time...While I'd first moved to Nova Scotia in 1972, wintering in a shack in the woods some 40 miles inland, I landed on Brier Island mid summer of 1974 and stayed. Even by Nova Scotia standards I had literally stepped back in time.. in one of the last primitive 'outports' in the province. The ferry then was a 40+ foot boat with a wheelhouse and cabin lashed alongside a steel barge (scow) with ramps at either end..When the water in the passage was rough the ferry did not run and you were stuck on either side, sometimes for days, especially in winter.Alongside the ferry slip/government wharf, one of two of the islands remaining fish plants reached out over the water, receiving each boat's catch of pollock, hake, halibut and cod, and returning in kind the carcasses, entrails and guts to the currents in the passage to create a chum line for all the indescribable creatures of the sea to follow. I could sit at night under the lights of the wharf and watch clouds of herring or squid bisected by shark, cod and giants I could not identify. Whales often wandered through the passage: Humpback, Minke, Fin, some Sperm and even Bowfin whales who appeared in the autumn and at night you could hear them squealing when they surfaced. The Milky Way danced overhead and 'backshore', away from the village the Northern Lights often broke out close to midnight as winter approached.I'm from Washington D.C. and I'd seen an ancient hand crank telephone in a museum case but I'd never used one. The phone system on the islands consisted of crank phones where the number of crank rotations identified the party you were calling, then an operator named Viola would connect you. People said that Viola listened to your conversation and best be careful what you said. In order to call the mainland you had to call Viola and talk to her personally. She was gabby. I don't remember needing more than four numbers to reach someone. The islands are sparsely inhabited and surnames are separated by both water and generational/clan hostilities. Both the peninsula and the islands, especially the islands have a rough reputation. These are fishermen, not farmers. And fishermen are hunters. The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world which means that the gravitational pulling of the moon affects this place more than anywhere else on the earth. Is this true? There have been occasions when I've believed that.I lived like a rat in a strange place. I bought an old 'fish shack', smokehouse and pier jutting out over the water from a fisherman/amateur painter of seascapes before he died of cancer and squatted in various spaces in the winters, half freezing/thawing in the wind and ice amidst the dull flickering window glow of tv sets and the banging of the Esso sign fronting the general store and bathing in an elderly neighbor's house. I went through rites of passage, both individually and collectively, including being rescued while lobstering in winter as well as having my place nearly washed away with the rest of the village in the storied Groundhog Storm which struck southwest Nova Scotia on Groundhog Day in February 2,1976, destroying many buildings and disfiguring the harbor's shoreline to the extent that it had to change/be rebuilt with rock quarried from the island's North shore. Immigration Canada found me in the late 70's and I was subsequently deported when I tried to take a job as a deckhand on a vessel surveying trans Atlantic cable on the seabed. From then on, up through the '80's, '90's to 2000, my life on the island was intermittent, still annual, 3-4 months per year, late summer through autumn. Experiences, as well as having a huge, famous hound have allowed me to elude being lumped under the connotation of 'summer folk'.
THE RELATIONSHIP, 2008 - 2016WalnutL- 44 1/8" W- 23 1/4" H- 15 1/2" (112.1 x 52.5 x 39.3 cm.)Note: This piece requires one more treatment with tung oil in Spring 2020Artist collection
I was just "Greg". Most folks never knew my last name. Still don't. What's the point?During the '70's the only ship we'd see coming in was 'The Salt Boat', a barely seaworthy vessel that delivered its cargo to independent fishermen in outports such as this who dry salted their fish on wooden slats along the shoreline for the Jamaican market which had existed for a century. Seagulls were shot and hung like scarecrows on posts to keep the drying catch unblemeshed for the market.The late 70's brought a market revolt in the herring industry and the Grand Manan Islands on the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy went independent of local fish brokers and formed "The Herring Club" which brought in these huge, never maintained, thoroughly rusted Polish hulks that processed on the open sea the great balls of herring stock for the mother of pearl from their scales alone, while the meat became fertilizer.In the 80's, scallop draggers from outside the region descended on us, scouring the bottom with their weighted sleds, disrupting inshore spawning and coming ever closer to the point of gunfire being exchanged in various locales between local and visiting boats. At night, a new sight on the horizon glowed increasingly bright with each year as one stood on the wild west shore of the island: a city of lights.from large Spanish and Portugese catch/processing vessels, taking apart groundfish stocks on the spawning ledges a thirteen hour 'steam' away. Canada then established a 200 mile international boundary in order to pursue and detain these ships, but the die was cast. Then in the '90's groundfish species specific quotas were imposed upon inshore fishermen as the stocks dwindled at their open sea source which eventually led to a complete moratorium on fishing. Only lobster fishing in winter sustains the islands, peninsula, and for that matter all four Maritime Canada Provinces. The 'summer catch' now are tourists clamoring on either re-purposed Cape Islander fishing boats or vessels specifically built to the task of taking folks to see and photograph whales offshore.At one time in history Westport, Brier Island had a population of 1,000. In the '80's I conducted a rough census from the phonebook+ counting children I knew to arrive at a population count of 375. Today the population consists of 190 souls that call this place home. In summer, tourists more than quadruple that each day. Some people have learned how to feed off of tourists.From the 80's to mid-2000's I've lived a schizophrenic life, caught between an historically Black DC inner city neighborhood that was, for more than a decade a site of carnage during 'The Crack Wars', then rapidly gentrifying - to this place; undergoing its own inexorable changes.During the times that I was North, on the island, I often lent my studio/loft to another artist for work and safekeeping.In 2007 I returned to Washington to find that one such individual had left a large, waterlogged 'crotch' trunk of black walnut in my parking space, probably weighing 300 pounds. I winched it to a concrete pad I'd made for carving in open space, tarped it and let it dry for a few seaons, then began to saw off sections of rot and spalt to let it sit again.It was a few years still before I 'saw' what was inside the remaining wood: A 60's vintage Cape Islander boat fatally nosing into a wave. I dedicated '1/2 time' to this piece in ensuing years working with a weak title in my head: "Coffee Table Boat" which encapsulated my cynicism of being surrounded by 'woke' young white city folk concerning the disappearing fish while at the same time ordering fish on the menu/buying it at market. When it comes to ocean fish there is no longer such a thing as a 'sustainable species'.I crated this unfinished piece to nova Scotia when I immigrated finally in 2013, now living 80 miles NE of Brier Island and returned to it after having completed a new home with studios on farmland I purchased in 1990. I stopped/gave it up in the Winter of 2015. As with every work I do, regardless of genre I just have to stop at some point.In those last months I was distraught; having: abruptly lost a relationship with my partner of many years, precisely the years spanning from 2007 to that moment in 2015. In these last few years I felt that I had been gnawing at personal history… carving away at my life. I had.... and I now have the title: The Relationship.