Buoys night out: Artists transform lobster buoys for the watershed


By Bruce Burdett

Lobster buoys of every description are piling in to the Westport Watershed Alliance office.

There are big ones — Meredith Cornell's "Flotsam and Then Some" seaweed-haired mermaid measures a full four feet.

There are traditional ones like Sharon Hardin's "Old Salt."

There are buoys that move — Charlie Appleton's "Whirligig Lobster" for instance.

There are buoys with funny names — "Cow Buoy," "Naughty Buoy" …

There are home-spun Westport and Sakonnet buoys — Sharlie Sudduth's "The Fleet," and timely ones — Brenda Wrigley Scott's "Bird Buoy" features a snowy owl.

There are intricately carved ones — Nick Jansen's "Fish Flap," and  Michael Hubert's "Ancient Mariner."

And they are all available to the highest bidders at this Saturday's (March 1) "Buoy the Winter Blues" Watershed Alliance winter fundraiser at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery. The buoys will be on display at the gallery from 1 to 7 p.m. with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m.

Asking organizer Gay Gillespie to choose a favorite is a mistake. The answer is pretty much whichever buoy she happens to be looking at at the moment.

"I am flabbergasted by the creativity," she said as she sorted through bubble wrap-protected buoys. "These are real works of art by some amazing people." And "there is something for every taste" — delicate, elaborate whimsical. "We are surrounded by talent and such imagination."

The event evolved from a wish to host a fun winter event that might raise some money. "We have summer things but in the winter every gets so 'caved.'"

A friend from New Jersey had done a similar fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity at which decorated bird houses were auctioned off.

"I like that idea but wanted something that would feel like Westport," Ms. Gillespie said. She thought of Valentine's hearts — "'Why I love the river,' but that seemed sort of flakey."

Instead, inspiration struck while hauling some of the family's lobster pots. "Lobster buoys — that could be fun."

Except theirs, like most, are made of styrofoam which isn't the best for painting and decorating.

A bit of internet research led Ms. Gillespie to Maine Wooden Buoys. The Friendship Harbor, Maine, company agreed to supply wooden buoys — naked or primed — "at a great price."

Next came the search for artists.

Ms. Gillespie sent letters to South Coast Artists and other nearby art groups. Other letters went to UMass Dartmouth art professors and to Westport art teachers.

She sent out 120 letters and promptly heard back from 52 artists. "They couldn't wait to get at it — already had lots of ideas."

She'd thought of limiting the field to 50 buoys but that proved a challenge — word of mouth brought others out of the blue. "Even my own brother made one."

Most were finished and delivered by late last week with only about a dozen still unaccounted for as the deadline approached. A photo of each with name of the artist is being posted on the Westport Watershed Alliance website — look for the 'Buoy Preview' button.

At the show (DeDee Shattuck Gallery donated its space for the event) and preview, bidders will be able to write their offer onto a bid sheet (bidding for each starts at $100). Those who can't attend may send submit a bid by calling or emailing Ms. Gillespie at the Watershed Alliance.

"But we really hope people stop by the gallery for a look," Ms. Gillespie said.  "You've got to see these buoys to believe them."

Saturday's event is supported in part by a grant from the Westport Cultural Council.




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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.