Fishing and lobstering was a major source of income for the islanders of North Haven where Allen and his family had spent all of their summers since 1914. His descendants still enjoy the beautiful costal environment and the views across Penobscott Bay to the Camden Hills from cozy little Bartlett’s Harbor on the Western side of the island. Fred had always loved being out of doors hunting and fishing above all else (wife Agnes). In North Haven he spent hours skeining with the fishermen and taught his children how to mend the nets they used. His daughter Barbara adds details, “He fished for flounders in the harbor, rock perch along the coast, and cod and haddock in deeper water.” His son Frederick G. Allen remembers that he bought and set a gill net and caught so many fish he had to build and use a smoke house, distributing the smoked fish to all the neighbors for several years. (F.G.Allen’s memories) He knew the labors of pulling nets and knew anatomy from his years of academic training and teaching, so the figure of this fisherman is a study of a body at work.
One of the last clay sculptures modeled in North Haven, the Fisherman could be called a sculptural sketch. Because it has a flat back that looks like a stepped stone pedestal, perhaps it was intended as maquette for a monument, but more likely it was a sculpture to go on a mantle or against a wall. It was sculpted for the summer art show of the North Haven Art Association in 1959 according to the note on the back of an old photograph from the family collection.
The clay has been applied with an eye for the composition of the piece with the details left “unfinished.” There has been controversy among art critics about this subject, asserting that details don’t need to be refined to give a sculpture the effect intended by the artist nor to make it a completed work of art. (refer to Thayer Tolles essay on “Refined Picturesqueness” Augustus St. Gaudens and the Concept of “Finish,” 1999, Somogy Editions D’Art, pp 59-64) Tolles summarizes St. Gaudens manifesto on the subject by saying, “Saint-Gaudens argued that the quality of a work of art be judged on its character or effect, rather than on its degree of technical completion. A painting or sculpture should not be elevated by its state of incompletion nor did it have to reach a point of belabored smoothness or detail to be worthy.” The Fisherman’s details might be considered sketchy rather than finished, but that is up to the viewer. The effect of the movement and composition of the piece is powerful.
Fred had constructed a gambrel-roofed building beside their cottage with a skylight that he used for his sculpture work as well as a sleeping loft for his boys and a boathouse for the winter. This photograph was taken in 1959 as he was creating a clay sculpture outside his studio with his wife Agnes and a toddler watching. The sculpture he is modeling looks the Fisherman in its beginning stages as he was applying the clay to an armature. The second image is taken inside the boathouse studio in front of a cloth divider that separates it from the pink granite Head of a Woman that was purchased by the landscape architect and North Haven summer resident Robert Wheelwright for the garden of the DuPont Estate in Delaware.
In the sculpture, the Fisherman is pulling hard with muscled arms extended straight, his hands grasping the nets that fall into his lap as they come up the side of the boat. His strong body is braced against the helm, his powerful wide-shouldered torso twisted from the waist toward the viewer’s right in the direction of his task as he leans backward to counterbalance the weight of his water-soaked burden. His loose pant legs cling to the contracting thighs and tuck into tall wide-cuffed boots that roll down below his knees.
His square-toed feet are planted firmly on either side of coiled lines on the deck and push back away from the side of the boat. His muscles bulge with the effort and his mouth and square jaw are set with firm intention. Dark deep-set eyes under an angular brow with thick eyebrows look out to the water where the nets have been thrown. Around his forehead is a headpiece or a cap with a scarf that hangs down to his lowered right shoulder. The diagonal line formed by his left leg continues up through the torso and head. Other diagonals radiate out from the hands in the lines formed by the folds of the net, the two arms and the lower right leg. Another set of rays is formed by the knobs and spokes of the helm. The shell shape spreading from the hands is mirrored in part by the reverse curve of the ropes. The solid smooth mass on which he steadies himself, bordered like a triangular base by the legs, grounds the piece and gives it a foundation from which to move upward and outward. The spiraling movement is dynamic and the masses balance each other both in weight and line. Textural surface details in the nets and rope and the planes of light on the draped head cloth, fishing pants and boot cuffs make the whole richer, adding interest and color without detracting from the composition as a whole.
The plaster has been tinted a pale terra cotta color and the figure rests securely on an unfinished wooden base slightly larger than the base of the sculpture. It was created in 1959 for the North Haven Art Association summer art show and discovered about 35 years later on a beam in the studio barn of his colleague, the painter Frank Weston Benson, with a broken knob on the helm. It was turned over to Allen’s granddaughter who brought it to Skylight Studios for repair in the expert hands of Robert Shure who had taken over Allen’s studio when it was bought by Northeastern University and moved to Woburn. The Fisherman is now in a private collection.