I’ve been wanting to attempt a large scale painting of abalone for some time now. I’m stunned by how this once plentiful mollusk, so vital to an equally struggling sea otter population, had become so severely depleted in less than a century. I don’t want to simply paint the masses of shells that use to litter the beaches but I also want to introduce other elements that would symbolize a bits of the history of this decline. I was stumped for a while, but the more I looked into it, the more possibilities arose. In researching the topic, I learned that while the native Ohlone people always harvested abalone, it was the Chinese who first began to fish it commercially. As early as 1853, a Chinisese fishing community started up at Point Alones in Monterey, next to where the Monterey Aquarium stands today. They recognized the abalone as a delicacy and shipped it live to San Francisco and smoked to China. Once their success was apparent, they were pushed into harvesting squid which was also sent to China to be used as fertilizer. Wide sweeping racism seemed to coincide with the burning of many coastal Chinese communities at the turn of the century and when fire broke out at Alones Point in 1906, the Chinese who had been leasing the land were not allowed to rebuild. Actual artifacts from this community have been dug up at this site including pieces of period pottery, shards of which I will paint into my this, my first work, little fragments of a mostly buried history.
Articles I’m using for reference include:
Graduate Student Uncovers Hopkins’ Immigrant History, Stanford Report, August 17, 2010
Monterey Excavation Reveals Chinese Fishing Village, SF Gate, November 5, 2010
History of Abalone Fisheries: Indian Fisheries, Calishpere, University of California
Chinese Fisherman, Explore Monterey County California
Edible History: Abalone, Edible Monterey Bay
My perfect circle of pottery shards is all but lost in this clutter of abalone shells as I play around with the textures and colors. It should resurface as I build up my highlights, luster and sheen.
I’ve decided to fill it all in and go back for the detail. One more day should do it and then the real work begins!