From the Boston Globe...


Author(s):    Donna Gold, Globe Correspondent Date: September 13, 1998 Page: C12 Section: Metro

LITTLE CRANBERRY ISLAND, Maine -- Come late summer, the open meadows along the coast of Maine shine a luminous, almost iridescent green. It's an unusual color, and it lingers long after the season wanes in the paintings of lobsterman-artist Dan Fernald.

If they can be found. Fernald sells his work almost as soon as he produces it, but the production is slow. The rest of his life -- a daily 5 a.m. appointment with his 36-foot lobster boat, afternoon stints tending the Islesford Artists Gallery he runs with his wife, Katy, and parenting two active teenagers -- leaves him little time to create the richly hued images so many covet.

"It's the colors, the burst of colors," said collector Diana Bostwick when asked to describe what she so admires about Fernald's work. She made the journey by boat from her summer home on Northeast Harbor to Little Cranberry Island one recent August afternoon only to find Fernald didn't have even one of his paintings to show, let alone sell.

"Everything I paint gets sold," shrugged the 44-year-old Fernald, a slight blush creeping over his face. This year, he raised the prices on his paintings of vistas around Little Cranberry Island, thinking that at $1,000 apiece he could keep them around longer. Still, just about as soon as his work was hung in the gallery, it would be gone.

Now Fernald has come to a juncture he never imagined: Can he cut back on his lobstering, the work that has sustained his family and the families of his ancestors going back five generations, so he can spend more time painting?

Fernald's friend Henry Isaacs, an artist who summers on Little Cranberry, believes that for Fernald, lobstering and painting are two sides of one whole and can't be separated. They both offer plenty of time to think, and a deep solitude that can border on loneliness.

"You have to think about spending 10 hours a day, 10 miles out," Isaacs said. "I can see the shape of the earth and the water in the design of his work."

Fernald sees his own parallels. "When I am working with oil paints and enjoying myself, I'm really sort of physical with them, and lobstering is real physical. You throw things around and get a lot of aggression out."

And lobstermen can be as sensitized by their surroundings as painters, he said. "If it's a beautiful sunrise, any one of a dozen lobstermen will get on the radio to make a comment on how beautiful it is."

For six generations, Fernald's family has fished off Little Cranberry, one of a chain of islands known as the Cranberry Isles that extend like stepping stones to the south of Northeast Harbor. Of Maine's thousands of offshore islands, only 14 have a year-round population, and of those, Little Cranberry's population is among the smallest. Only 75 people live year-round on the island, though that number tops 400 in summer.

When Fernald grew up, attending the one-room school, there were nearly twice as many permanent residents on the island and half the summer people.

Fernald said he didn't give much thought to becoming a lobsterman. It was the island occupation, a family tradition, and it became his career as soon as he finished high school.

"I always knew that there was something else," he said, but marriage and children allowed little opportunity to change.

Being an artist was not something he yearned to do or imagined doing, even though art was never far away. Artists have summered on or retired to the island for decades, and one of Fernald's best friends growing up, Rick Alley, used to draw constantly.

"I figured if you were an artist, you were like him, just drawing and painting," Fernald said. "I didn't know -- it didn't dawn on me -- that it was something you can just choose to learn."

About 15 years ago, during a long winter, art teacher Audrey Fisher retired to Little Cranberry with her husband and offered a painting course at her home. Fernald had no interest, but his wife longed to do something creative together, so she pleaded with him to attend.

The connection, Fernald said, was immediate: "Opening up the paints, squeezing the color out, the texture, the smell . . ." All of it excited him.

That spring, he took an adult education art course at Ellsworth High School, motoring his lobsterboat over from the island at 5 p.m., motoring back late at night; staying over if the weather looked bad.

At home, he began waking up at 4 a.m. to spend a half-hour drawing before he went to work the traps, just to train his hand. After work, he would paint still lifes set up by Ashley Bryan, another artist who retired to the island.

In the past dozen years, Fernald has joined Isaacs for painting trips to Colorado and Italy and other workshops, always seeking to perfect his technique and perhaps escape the isolation of being a lobsterman-artist.

Though Fernald insists he knows nothing about painting, and still has trouble calling himself an artist, his patrons clearly disagree. They are drawn to his vibrant colors, much more glowing than the subtle landscapes for which Maine is known, and to his vivid images of life on the island, from lobster boats bobbing in the harbor to a pick-up baseball game on shore.

Fernald, too, has now become a summer visitor to his own home, spending the school year on the mainland with his family. But even there, he finds himself drawn back to canvasses begun on the island.

"I know the island so well, I used to duck hunt here, rabbit hunt in the winter woods," he said. "And I always have this need to include more. I'll paint trees, and I'll want to paint what I know is behind the trees -- the people who might be walking up and down, and I can do that without seeing it, because I know the island so well, I've been here so long.