When Pat Lewis contacted me about painting a swordfish for her, I wasn't quite sure what I was walking into. I don't paint much in the way of sea life but I'm certainly open to a challenge. She asked me to come out to her beautiful home overlooking Catalone lake. She talked to me about how the swordfish hung in their family store for many years and was quite iconic to the area and their family history. As is evident from this excerpt that was taken from an article about her father, Harvey Lewis, in the Cape Breton Post in 2012, about the book he wrote:
"In a section of the book dealing with the lucrative swordfish industry in Louisbourg (in 1932, over 2,000,000 pounds of swordfish were landed at Louisbourg, with 40 to 50 people employed in processing the fish at the Lewis & Co. wharf) of the 1930s and 1940s, several pages are devoted to a nearly forgotten era when wealthy sportsmen would come to Louisbourg to try and land a swordfish on a hook and line."
I had heard a bit about the sword fishing industry here in Louisbourg, after all, my grandfather met my grandmother when he was sword fishing here in Louisbourg from Petit de Grat in the late 40s. My grandfather would frequent the restaurant where my grandmother worked and after a short courtship, asked her to marry him, and the rest as they say, is history.
So Pat brought me down to her basement and showed me the very large plywood swordfish. It was about 10 feet in length and hanging above 2 twin beds. We discussed color and style and said it was actually passed down to her brother George, who's grandfather was the namesake of the school here in Louisbourg. She would touch base with him and verify my quote and get back to me.
When Pat did touch base again she had an idea, why not paint it at the Oceans to Opportunity Marine Science and Heritage Centre as an interpretive display. She talked with Jenna, the co-ordinator of 'The O2' as it's referred, and all was put into motion. Jenna gathered some pieces to display near where I would be painting including a spear, and the small structure that kept the fisherman from flying off the boat when spearing these massive fish.
On July 27th I started the process of painting the swordfish. I first coated the fish with Gesso to prime the surface. Then I began building up the layers of paint and blending them together to block in the color and find the right mix of tones to bring the fish to life. Folks came in to visit while I was working, talking about how they either remembered the fish hanging in the store, the one that hung on the outside of the store (shown below) or the sword fishing industry in the area. But there were many who had no idea and got to learn some things about this massive industry from our past.
It took me 2 full days to finish painting and another to varnish it for protection from the elements.
Much like the original Lewis and Co. store, young George plans to display it outside, on the garage, after all, it's tradition. You can see the swordfish on display at the O2 for the rest of the summer, right here in the heart of Louisbourg.