When Cod Was King

Artist Russ Kramer interprets the glory days of the Grand Banks fishermen.
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Courtesy of the  J. Russell Jinishian Gallery, jrusselljinishiangallery.com

Courtesy of the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery, jrusselljinishiangallery.com

It’s one thing for a marine artist to paint what he sees before him. It’s something else to recreate a scene out of history and imagination, let alone make it attractive, entertaining and historically accurate. The latter was the challenge for marine artist Russ Kramer when he agreed to paint this work for a commercial fisherman and his family.

“He and I were interested in recreating a scene on board in the glory days of the Grand Banks fishermen,” Kramer says.

The artist drew on a host of sources before he ever put brush to canvas. Kramer watched the 1937 movie Captains Courageous starring Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew. He researched skippers on vintage newsreels. He viewed documentaries about schooners from Gloucester, Massachusetts. He studied a model of the schooner Arethusa, built by Erik Ronnberg and now in the Mystic Seaport Museum collection.

Kramer got the client involved, too. “He supplied images he’d taken himself of holds full of cod and haddock,” Kramer says. “In fact, he and a few of his crew modeled for me in their foul weather gear.”

Kramer describes When Cod Was King as showing Arethusa in the background. “In lumpy seas and gathering weather, dorymen fork over cod and haddock into the schooner’s pens, a good day of fishing on the banks. Other crew sort and dress the catch. Arethusa, jogging by, is heading back to port with her holds full.” It’s an intriguing, if imagined, glimpse at a way of life well worth remembering. 

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue.

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