William Hall at Jessie Edwards
With his new series of watercolors, “Island Maritime Paintings,” Bill Hall continues to chart the history of Block Island’s boats, its community of fishermen, and the ways in which fishing has changed over the decades. They are on exhibit at the Jessie Edwards Studio on the second floor of the Post Office building from Friday, Aug. 23 to Sept. 4. The opening reception is on Saturday, August 24, from 5 to 7 p.m.
For Hall, the double-ender, or Cowhorn, as it is also known, is the link, a “portal to imagined scenes from the past.” Nevertheless, these imagined scenes are grounded in reality. Hall’s sources include old photographs, stories passed down from his father and older generations of island fishing families, his own memories, and research in marine archives and other historical resources. Capturing the past is difficult enough, and in working in watercolor, Hall has, as he says, tried to “control the uncontrollable — water.” His strokes are delicate but strong and meticulous in defining the details of the boats, the old buildings, and the old fishing techniques. He uses watercolor paper with a smooth surface, which is good for detail, and sometimes coats it with sepia for a period feeling. Combining watercolor with an opaque medium such as gouache allows for more highlights and greater contrast between light and dark tones.
For over 250 years, double-ender crews saw every change in maritime transportation to pass through the waters around Block Island. For example, “Double-Ender and New Bedford Whaler, ‘Wanderer,’ 1820s” emphasizes both the durability and the fragility of the small fishing boat as it sails alongside the three-masted ocean-going schooner in deep waters off the coastline.
Several works show the sense of community among the fishing families of the island. It was rare for a fisherman to go out alone. Instead, they fished in groups for safety, especially in poor weather and difficult currents. “Three Double Enders Fishing” is a scene of three small boats cod fishing in the East Grounds on a gray, overcast day. The angle of their sails suggests a strong wind blowing off the coast.
Hall has also included a series of six watercolors depicting the evolution of Block Island ferry boats, some that may still be familiar to islanders and visitors.