Nautical Body


I make sculptural instruments and devices which function either actually, or metaphorically.  Often created for use in a specific location or inspired by a particular historical account, their meticulous craftsmanship lends them authority as functional objects, but upon inspection may seem quite absurd, fetishistic, alchemical, or otherwise baffling.

I continue this in a body of work influenced by the sea.  This “Nautical Body” of sculpture, performance, and drawings has required me to physically become one. I exhaustively researched maritime history and culture to actualize a modern relationship to stories, lore, and tricks and trades of explorers, pirates, fishermen, ‘old salts,’ and sea-steading sailors. It forced me to live the life of my subject -living and working on the 83’ sailing schooner, Mystic Whaler, and later my own 23’ sailboat. This training instilled a rare insight into the “dying art” of maritime culture, practical techniques, and crafts, which inspire the work. Production began with a 2007-2008 fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, followed by a month residency at Ross Creek in Nova Scotia. The local environment of the Atlantic coast and its rich maritime history inspires and influences the work.  I make a contemporary reflection on history and the importance of the sea to culture… with the benefit of hindsight.


**click on one for bigger image**
42" x 42" graphite and carbon on mylar.
Drawing project using history and memories to make a map of Boston Harbor
Made while Artist-in-Residence at Boston Center for the Arts (Jan-March 2011)

  A Most Fortunate Ship, 2010, graphite and carbon on mylar. 42" x 30"    
  Super Sweepsy (Sailor's Whisk) 2009, manila. 34" x 30" x 60"    
  Boat Signals (Speak My Language)/Long Distance Lexicon    
  Giant Monkey's Fist with splice-down tail    

Chafe Gear for Hand and Forearm

  photographs 26" x 20"

On a ship, chafe gear prevents rope or other things from wearing down. Here, instead of protecting the hand, it renders its movement useless while becoming a fetishised garment.

"Cape Cod Girls don't use no combs!... They comb their hair with the codfish bones. Cape Cod Boys don't use no sleds!... They slide down hills on codfish heads! "
These objects were used in a performance, with Schooner Shanty Trumpet


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Schooner Shanty Trumpet        

Based on a traditional speaking trumpet, this innovative ‘double trumpet’ version is designed for the schooner shanty singer to project vocally to the lines of sail-raising seamen on both the port and starboard sides aboard ship.


Giant Becket-Brooch

This pair of extremely oversized sea chest handles (“beckets”), will hang on opposite walls, activating the negative space of a room.  They embody my foolhardy enthusiasm as a tall ship sailor. Historically, a sailor’s character and seamanship were judged by the quality or elaborateness of the beckets (knotted rope handles) on his sea chest, and they are considered a personal masterpiece which takes months to create.  There is the additional irony that it is not one, but a pair of identical masterpieces. Much patience and skill is used to create these "sailor's marlinespike seamanship" knotwork pieces.




Seasick of Me

The drawings stem from dated nautical motifs. The empty center of the drawing is mirror-polished stainless steel.  This uncanny framed frame literally, but eerily, reflects the true modern world.

  Sailor's Hanky (Not Really) 12" x 12"

Tallship sailors, known for their decorative knot-tying handiwork, suffer from constant sniffles, brought on by an ever-present
chill and seabreeze.  This humorous take on a sailor’s marlinespike seamanship project is beautiful, but useless holey hanky.

  Kernel of O'Brian 36" x 24"  

Love-ly Beckets

"What is a becket? Why not just call them rope handles? The dictionary gives this definition:
n. Nautical A device, such as a looped rope, hook and eye, strap, or grommet, used to hold or fasten loose ropes, spars, or oars in position. [Origin unknown.]

"I do know they are generally thought to be the hardest piece of knotwork for the sailor to tie. Once tied, painted and installed on the side of his personal chest (locker) the has everyright to consider it a personal masterpiece. When I tie beckets I often catch myself holding my breath during a particularly tricky step in the building process. It's hard to find words toconvey the special touch needed to tie a pair of these intricate beauties. The key word here is "pair". It's hard to make one, never mind making a masterpiece times two."

-from Barbara Merry (

Sailor's really don't use sea chests anymore, they use a duffel. However, the idea of the chest and of the 'personal masterpiece' of its beckets is still vitally intreguing for traditional sailors. I've designed this pair of beckets to be worn by a couple. Together, their bodies form the metaphorical sea chest (which contain everything needed, everything precious), and so they carry each other. The colors are somewhat gawdy, garish, and yet the fact that they wear like a yoke might possibly reflect a sinister element in the resemblance to slave neck-shackles which is also a part of schooner sailing history, and reference "the old ball-and-chain".




Six Frigates


An homage to first Six Frigates of the United States Navy which revolutionized Naval warfare and dominance of the seas.  Perhaps you are the enemy viewing the ship from your telescope.

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listen to my version of sail hauling chantey 'Haul Away Joe'

My version of a classic sea chantey used to haul up sails.  I sang, or rather shouted, this song during sail-raising when I worked on a schooner out of Connecticut.  For exhibitions, I have included this piece played through headphones.  I am currently making a two- horned brass trumpet, which I will play this recording through.  Based on a classic 18th century sea officer’s speaking trumpet, but it divides into two horns- the better for the sailors lined up on each of the port and starboard sides to hear the song during sail-raising on a schooner.

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  Knot Keychain    



Knot Flashcards

The Eagle: as the Crow Flies (24 x 36")    
Gilligan Salutes Lord Admiral Nelson (11x14")    
Tide Seeker    
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Circumnavigating at Provincetown Art Museum My caricature of a ship becomes a drawing/rocking horse/ships ladder.  Ascension of the ladder makes for a tippy ride and an absurd voyage. 
Right/Wrong Whale, 2009, 8" x 10"
It is amusing, though tragic, that the "Right" whale was named such because it floats when killed, rather than sinking like most other whales.  Now viewed as "wrong", Right whale hunting (primarily for their oil) brought them to near-extinction until the timely discovery of petroleum in  1859.

Winged Victory, 2009, 8" x 10"

Lord Admiral Nelson's infamous ship-of-the-line Victory, revered, angelic.

  "Circle Of" (2009-2010)

Made from non-data parts of old sea charts and maps.  These early charts were misleading in their accuracy at the time, but looked convincingly plausible. 
Richly decorated with sea monsters, people of exotic lands, etc., these peripheral decorum function for me as tricksters, overshadowing the meaning in the
fallible charts, which often lead to shipwreck death, and financial ruin.


I commissioned artist Duke Riley to design and ink my upper arms with navigational running lights.

  I commissioned artist Moorea Hum to ink my drawings of the USS Constitution's Great Guns on my biceps. Aughtn't all vessels be packing some firearms?  

images from my schooner sailing adventures may be seen here

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