Monthly Archives: September 2016

Gone to Pieces

The decay and ultimate demise of a wooden fishing boat is a sad spectacle, although fishermen themselves generally are not very sentimental about their boats. Fishermen value a boat as long as it can do the work that it was built for. When it can’t, a boat has no value and is often stripped of its hardware and craned ashore where it can be taken to the dump. In the past, a fisherman might abandon a boat in a marsh or even burn it.

I first photographed the Linda in 1985. In that photo (below), she was tied up at the dock of Luther L. Smith & Son fish house in the Down East town of Atlantic in North Carolina. She was built by Ambrose Fulcher of Atlantic in 1939 as a runboat for the long-haul fishing trade, but she also shrimped (as can be seen by her shrimp nets), clammed and crabbed. She was a versatile boat.


Linda (at dock) in Atlantic NC in 1985 (all photos © Lawrence Earley).

Twenty years later (2005), I photographed Linda again at the Smith fish house. In the photograph she is obviously near the end of her working career.


Linda in 2005

I photographed Linda from 2005 until 2011 as she literally went to pieces. Her bilge pump failed in 2007 and in 2011, she was destroyed by Hurricane Irene.


Linda in 2006


Linda in 2008


Linda in 2010

Battered by the sea and by storms, wooden fishing boats have only a limited lease on life. Linda had unusually long and useful life on the water—a workboat built in 1939 is lucky to have lasted as long as she did. But she will be remembered. Like all old workboats, Linda played an important role by linking people, families and communities in a web of stories and memories. The stories and memories associated with a boat are like family tales told around the dinner table and passed down from one generation to another. They are as important to community life as family stories are to family life.


Linda destroyed by hurricane in 2011


Sunday at the Park in Raleigh

On a walk from my house to the campus of Dorothea Dix hospital in Raleigh N.C. a couple of weeks ago, I discovered this group of painted plywood figures erected in the wide open spaces of the central lawn.

© Lawrence S. Earley

© Lawrence S. Earley

It was an almost perfect replication of Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grand Jatte” (below). A couple of the people in Seurat’s composition are missing to the right of the foreground couple, and the spacing between that couple and the figures on their left could have been better, I think. But the organization of the figures matched Seurat’s remarkably well.


courtesy Wikipedia Commons

I would have loved to know why they were there. It was a little eerie—all those figures, so artfully arranged, but with no explanation as to why. I took a photo with my iPhone and continued my walk. A few days after I made the photograph the figures were gone.

I’ve looked at my photograph quite a bit since then. Someone had taken great care to carve the figures to match Seurat’s composition, to paint them very carefully and to space them almost exactly.  You don’t just do that for fun.  Perhaps they had been made as a background for an outdoor theater presentation of Sondheim’s “A Sunday in the Park with Georges.” Perhaps a dance troupe could have danced through the figures. After the performance, the pieces were left to be picked up later. I’m sure it was something like that.

I could probably discover what they were doing there with a phone call or two, but I’m not sure I want to know. I like the mystery of it. Here today, gone the next, my photo the only evidence of its existence. There are a lot of possible explanations, including, of course, space aliens. They always seem to represent the best explanation for things that are hard to understand.

If I had a truck and made a few trips, I could have picked up the whole bunch of figures myself, although I’m not sure what I would have done with all the pieces. Maybe I’d keep the couple on the right, put them out in our garden. Maybe the little girl running. But I really didn’t think of doing that, although someone else might have. An eccentric drug king with a yen for Sondheim, for example, stole the pieces and had them reassembled at a large estate in another country. I think that’s pretty unlikely, but you never know.