December 26, 2010

Bob Keyes: Artist/clammer digs her dual life

BOOTHBAY HARBOR - The season, the time of the day, sometimes just the weather will dictate which job Jen Casad will do today.

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"The Sea Peddler" by Jen Casad, 2007, pencil on illustration board.

Courtesy of the artist

click image to enlarge

"Farrin's Wharf," 2005, pencil on illustration board

Courtesy of the artist

Casad, 33, lives in Boothbay and supports herself with her drawing and with her clamming. She's a talented artist and a darn fine fisherman.

Lately, she's also become a bit of a movie star. Casad is enjoying celebrity as the subject of the film "Double Tide" by artist Sharon Lockhart. The movie involves two real-time segments of Casad digging clams at Seal Cove in South Bristol. The only dialogue is Casad's grunting as she wrests stubborn clams from the mud. The action is her labor, which is substantial. She drags her gear across the flats, and slogs knee-deep through the gurgling, sucking muck.

Lockhart, a Los Angeles-based artist with New England roots, shot one segment at sunrise, the other at sunset on the same day -- an occurrence that fishermen call a double tide, because it allows them to hit the exposed flats twice in one day.

The film is getting screenings in theaters across the country, showing largely at museums that feature art films. And make no mistake, "Double Tide" is a piece of art. As much as anything, it is a study in light with the sounds of birds, lobster boats in the distance, the clammer walking in the mud.

It is a nature film, without dialogue or plot; nothing but time elapsing, and a lone figure plodding through the mud. Imagine you are a bird sitting on a rock, studying the scene. That is "Double Tide."

The New York Times said of the movie, "Divided almost equally into two stunning, stationary shots of a woman yanking clams from a peaceful Maine beach, this 99-minute moving meditation is guaranteed to lower your blood pressure and recalibrate your mind."

The first week of December, about two dozen of us recalibrated our minds together as we settled into our seats at the Harbor Theatre. Most of us lasted the duration. The only person who walked out was Casad's mom, which we all found amusing.

Casad has been clamming for a decade. She makes decent money, and enjoys the labor and the camaraderie.

She's been drawing as long as she can remember, and she's very good. I first saw Casad's drawings this summer at "Lunch Break," an installation of Lockhart's at the Colby College Museum of Art. Although it focused on the workers at Bath Iron Works, "Lunch Break" offered an overview of labor in Maine, and Lockhart included a few small drawings by Casad.

At first, I assumed the little graphite drawings were old photographs. They were rich in detail, and looked dated. But on closer examination, I realized they were the creation of the deft hand of Casad.

"My grandmother, my biological father, my younger brother, and my sisters are or were artists. Drawing has just been something I have always done," she says.


She favors local fishing docks as her subjects, and her view is historic. She sometimes paints from old photos of the docks down in South Bristol.

"There is something so beautiful about the old clothing and boats and that way of life. In these old-time drawings, I can still hear the same voices that I hear on the docks today, the same complaints about the weather, or the price on lobsters, or the outrageous price of bait," she says. "To me, these aren't just pretty places or a bunch of fisherman. This is part of my life."

Casad has shown her drawings here and there in Maine, and she would like to show more. Certainly, she possesses the talent to justify a serious exhibition of her work. She also has her sights set on New York.

(Continued on page 2)

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