Jeff Marshall: On The Waterfront

Jeff Marshall at the Cape Ann Museum until November 25th.

By Ken Riaf 

The Wharf

Jeff Marshall’s studio sits above the tide on Smith Cove and overlooks a truck corral down at the Morse Sibley Wharf. It’s where fisherman hitch their workhorses for however long it takes to get the fish from out there to back here. The ancient pilings driven deep into clay centuries ago and sistered to newer stringers form a solid structure. But it’s akin to the old utility knife that over time acquired two new blades and three new handles.

The wharf’s beaverized timbers and moaning spiles hover above a dank cavern of wooden stalagmites and yet, despite its picturesque decay, it’s still a place to go fishing from.

Morse Sibley Wharf

Comings and Goings.   © Jeff Marshall

The Lot

Pickup trucks rest on a scrapple of broken asphalt penned-in by rusting cargo containers and dredges laced with Tansy gone to seed. There’s a hogged wooden hull up against a battered wharfhouse whose padlock gets shielded from the weather by a leather flap above the hasp. Decomposing memories of fisheries past – a Gillnet dries on a wooden spool and a stone-age winch is ready to start a new life as a mooring stone.

In earlier times a telephone pole spiked with store bought and makeshift signs warned unwary interlopers:

We’ve Seen Your Approach Now Let’s See Your Departure and No Trespassing means Go Away, Go Away Means You or the ever popular I Gave At The Office.

Process Sequence of Monster Truck #3.   © Jeff Marshall

An Old Horse Knows the Way

The classic wharf truck hauled and dragged whatever needed hauling or dragging from A to B and sometimes as far as C.  In a time when working folks understood one another’s burdens and the beasts that carried them, a yellowed inspection sticker or expired plate were often overlooked with a friendly nod as good as a wink. In a world of rust and midnight doings the waterfront code of live and let live was the grease that made the dockyard’s hum.

A point of pride was seeing just how long one could keep the heap. Could you coax it to expire at the junkyard gate? The Morse Sibley corollary to Murphy’s Law “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” was – “I know it’s broken but it works all the same”.

Ronnie’s a Bulldog.   © Jeff Marshall

Outside of a dog, a pickup truck is mans best friend – inside of a dog, it’s too dark to drive.

Everything has at least two sides to it from dishes that need washing to the great philosophies. The wharf truck probably has at least four sides, those being inside & out and top & bottom.

The cab is a place to get out of the weather while your vessel idles awake. It’s a smokey, fishy, coal-tar pitch museum of the trade. Retired oilskins fused with fish scales and the mending needles in the glove box are always close at hand. There’s a candy dish of melted bon-bons on the dashboard and bits of old lunch wedged in the visor.

Patches of red lead filler and gray primer hide the scars. She lists to starboard on a balding tire squared from sitting. Those are its topsides and keel. A land scow that the family dubbed “Our Shame.” And what of lost mariners who never return to claim their mounts? Keys dangle in the ignition because who would want to thieve this? The newspaper splayed to the sports page beside a bottle of Moxie and a half-eaten lobster roll. These things happen.

In Fishtown, one might refer to someone not entirely tethered to his mental moorings by genteelly suggesting that the poor fellow’s wharf “doesn’t go all the way down to the water”. Well, the Morse Sibley wharf does go down there and has been doing so since the age of sail. Future fishers will shelter in the lee of their steeds to talk weather, the price of fish and about that new electric pick-up truck, they’re gonna get someday.

So now comes Marshall to set himself, easel, paints and tools at the hub of this sometimes milling sometimes solitary station where fishers hitch their warhorses, cast the lines and slip to the fog. He knows the situation and the terrain down the old pier and his subjects know how to hold a pose.

Gone … Fishing, a special exhibition of recent work by Jeffrey Marshall, is on now until November 25th at the Cape Ann Museum.


Ken Riaf is a lawyer, artist, author, educator, playwright, activist and all around great guy who owns and operates the Law & Water Gallery on Pleasant Street in Gloucester.



~ Coming Out of the Woodwork ~

West End of Main Street.          J. Jeffrey Grant (1883 – 1960)

I’ve been asked, “When are you going to write again?”  I guess there isn’t a proper answer to that or too many excuses, plus, I don’t consider myself a writer, but when one of my favorite authors says my stories are wonderful, it boosts my confidence enough to think about it.

Thinking about it hasn’t helped much.  I guess one needs to be passionate about something before they can put it into words.  I’m passionate most every day and often share my feelings on social media with my photographs.  I call it my “Therapy.”  Do I need therapy?  Yes.  Don’t we all?  In this day and age of horrendous news, insatiable cancer, pollution, (unfortunately the list is long) a person needs a tranquil escape.

Often when I write, it’s because something is really bothering me, and I feel the need to share my feelings to see if I’m alone in them. At the same time, I don’t want it to just become a rant, where the reaction is, “Oh no, here she goes again.”  Sometimes those rants raise awareness and bring people together in a positive way, like my last entry, “Pimping Out Gloucester.”  I was thrilled with the support I received from like-minded people that wanted to leave Ten Pound Island alone.  It wasn’t written very well, but the results were heartwarming.

So, why am I coming out of the woodwork now?  What’s got my goat?  Different things, but all Gloucester related.  You can choose to stop reading now or go on and tell me if I’m being tedious. I’m a big girl, I can take it.

A few months back, it was decided by someone that Main Street’s draw would be enhanced by lighting up the trees from the West End to the East.  Shop owners would keep their stores open later because of the pretty lights and possibility of more foot traffic.  Volunteers were sought and found to help in this project, but no public input was sought.  No one was able to say, “I don’t want this, nor do I want the maintenance fees to come out of my taxes.”  No concerns of how artificial light could affect photosynthesis or night pollinators.  The project just went full steam ahead and now we have, I don’t know how many yards of wire hanging from trees, plugged into lamps that have underground wiring.  To me, it kind of defeats the original downtown beautification of having underground wiring for our handsome lamp posts in the first place.

I’m sure you can tell, I’m not a fan of the year-round Christmas lights on Main Street, but I’m less of a fan of the “just go ahead and do it,” approach to things that happen in this town.  We have Ward Councilors and Councilors at Large, but I’ve always felt Ward 2 belongs to all residents, just as our beaches and woods do. Surely these councilors can bring awareness to all of us, as to what is going on before the “going on” happens.   Which leads me to my next subject of “no input fear.”

While driving down Washington Street last week, I saw a big yellow sign that reads, “Let Sleeping Dogtown Lie.”  My first thought was “Ut Oh, what now?”  So, I asked on Social Media and was given some answers which lead me to a little more detail.

Excuse me, I just ran out for coffee and the paper, I had to grin when I read the headline, “Dogtown designation divides residents,” further captioned “Proponents tout better management; foes don’t want it to become a park.”  That’s an entirely different rant.  Seems the Gloucester Daily Times likes to label anyone with a difference of opinion as a “Foe.”  Oh, how I remember it well, being a “Hotel Foe and Obstructionist,” during that time period.  “Me thinks, someone is trying to tell us how to think.”

So, back to it.  I’ve come to the knowledge, as many have by now, that the Historical Commission is seeking nomination for Dogtown to become part of the National Register of Historic Districts.  This is pretty cool, right?  Well, there’s also a lot of “buts,” that need to be addressed and not brushed aside before that “full steam ahead,” approach is taken.  I imagine, once the application is sent into the state for their approval, that there will be no turning back.  Someone asked me, “Why are you trying to prevent this?  It’s no different from being nominated for an academy award.”  … that’s where I get nervous.  We all know with fame comes invasion of privacy.  Can Dogtown handle the spotlight?

I’m told the deadline is October 26, 2018, for the nomination to go to the state.  I’ve also been told, there will be public input before the end of the year.  Isn’t that a bit too late?  A lot too late?

Shouldn’t public input have been sought at the “idea” stage?  In the …We’re thinking of this for Dogtown folks, what do you think?… stage.

Remember when the “Sawyer Free Library Expansion Plans,” came out in the Gloucester Daily Times?  I believe it was a couple years ago.  I think it came as a shock to most of us.  I do remember an uproar from many when the artist rendition of the (already hired and paid for) architectural plans hit the front page.  Another example of putting the cart before the horse.  And who’s forgotten the funds being sought to erect a David Black sculpture in Solomon Jacobs Park?

My mind was blown once when a mayor (I won’t name names) said, and this is not verbatim, but pretty gosh darn close, “I’m supporting this and pushing this through because some citizens of Gloucester don’t know what’s best for them.”  I could not believe my ears.  It’s this kind of attitude that has soured many from getting involved, sadly, it should have done the opposite – rile folks up so much that they come out of the woodwork to have their voices heard.

How do we keep people informed about what’s happening in City Hall?  I don’t know the answer to that.  I do have an idea, not through the Times or our government’s website, because not everyone reads the Times or has a computer.  I think City Hall needs a “Coffee Talk” publication once a week.  Do you know what I mean?  Ever go have breakfast somewhere and there are these placemat size flyers with whimsical facts, jokes, and puzzles on them?  I’d always grab one for their entertainment value while waiting for my pancakes to arrive, Jimmy would always get more answers right than I did on the quizzes.  Anyway, my point is, what a great way to get the “goings on,” of Gloucester and stimulate conversation around town.  Did I just create a job for someone?  Maybe the High School could get involved.  We need to know what’s up and coming before it’s gone by.  Gloucester Coffee Talk, straight out of City Hall…   what do you think folks?

In the meantime, can we please find out more information before any decisions are made for Dogtown?  Please.


Laurel Tarantino, is happy to live in her hometown, Gloucester, with her husband, James, “Jimmy T,” daughter Marina Bella, and the family dog, Sport. She is known for “stopping to smell the roses” and loves to photograph and write about her beloved waterfront community.