I know this confession sounds like a reckless betrayal of family values, but I'm certain many of you will soon understand, particularly you artists and dreamers who find beauty in most things and with whom even God must surely have a forgiving soft spot. It all started so innocently ......
This June my wife Ellie and I began our first trip "across the pond" to spend a week in London followed by three weeks in Ireland. We had arranged to exchange homes and automobiles with a family from Spiddal, Ireland, a small town located on the west coast about 15 miles from Galway.
Since I'm 1/8th Irish and Ellie (maiden name "O'Brien") is a proud 1/2 Irish, our genetics alone explain the desire to better understand the people and place of our origins. So with child-like eagerness, 2 cameras, batteries, chargers, SD cards, Rick Steves' travel guides, and great expectations for coming home with thousands of reference photographs for future paintings, we took off. And after 11 hours of flying time I realized that Europe is only two movies and one short book away from Los Angeles.
Upon landing at Heathrow Airport we thankfully followed the advice of experienced friends and took only public transportation. Like most European cities and towns, London has evolved over hundreds-to-thousands of years. Roads began with footpaths, then horse paths, then wagon tracks. Buildings came far before the automobile and, consequently, busy roads are now narrowly bordered with incredible historic architecture. The need for public transportation was met with an extremely effective bus, taxi, rail, and underground infrastructure. But woe to first-time tourists trying to decide at which bus stop they wait, for what bus, going to what location at 9 PM. It becomes a test of marital strength.
Once referred to as "Old Smoke," London is now clean, beautiful, filled with history, and a storehouse of art in many forms. The National Gallery alone contains a staggering concentration of works from the most celebrated artists including Turner, Michelangelo, Vermeer, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Titian, Cezanne, Monet, Gainsborough, van Gogh, Constable, Raphael, and many more. Near the Gallery and near other great creations such as St. Paul's Cathedral stand shrapnel-damaged buildings as chilling reminders of the pains of war and the heroism of the people who protected these masterpieces for the world.
Walk into the free British Museum and stand one foot away from the Rosetta Stone ... a four-foot fragment of a larger Egyptian stone dating back to 196 BC that was found in 1799 and contains a decree inscribed in three different languages including Hieroglyphic, Greek, and Demotic. It was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs and finally enabling the interpretation of recordings by ancient civilizations.
After one week in London we flew to Ireland where our exchange family's car became our only mode of transportation. I immediately learned that driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right, and entering endless round-a-bouts in a diesel-powered, stick-shift automobile with six forward gears, on roads that can only handle a single small car but have 2-story tour buses barreling toward you as your wife looks up from the road map and screams in fear .... well, that can be stressful-to-dangerous!
During the first day with a car ride no more than 30 miles from our home base of Spiddal, I realized that Ireland would surpass all of my expectations. Oh, it was cloudy and windy with showers, but the landscape was lush green and the sun was only a day away. Small villages having small streets are lined with pubs next to pubs owned by "publicans." Moss-covered stone walls stacked without mortar, subdivide every hillside. Castles, cashels, beehives, thatch-roofed homes, and harbors all made centuries ago are from the same plentiful stone. Sheep, cattle, and horses endlessly graze on the green pastures. Magpies are everywhere; pheasants are plentiful, white swans dot the waterways, and puffins fill the island cliffs until early July. The smell of burning peat rises from many chimneys. Large towns such as Galway have historic shopping districts with old streets tightly lined with colorful shops and filled with people. Entertainment is provided every 50 yards or so by street performers or "buskers."
The big impression that will last with me forever was the fun and conversations we had with these generous people. They made me reflect on my own life, our many gifts, and the impact the US has on the world. The most frequently asked question by Englishmen and Irishmen alike is, "So, what do you think of Trump?" On the golf course, in the pub, the sales lady in a clothing store, a stranger walking along the harbor; they all ask. We Americans ARE regarded as a world power and our leaders are in the news daily. We are observed, studied, and critiqued. These people know more about our government and the government of other countries than we do. They care.
As hoped, Ireland quickly became the inspiration for many future paintings. Being a maritime artist, my excitement grew as I approached the small stone harbor in Spiddal on that first day. I was taking pictures of an old, black, wooden, single-masted sailboat resting on its keel during low tide in the corner of the harbor when an old man's voice asked, "You know how old that boat is?" When I said, "No," he told me his name was Jim; he was the owner, and the boat is 200 years old! It's a "Galway Hooker" Jim proudly explained. The boat was once used in this region for long-line fishing and for hauling dried turf over to the Aran Islands to be burned for heat. She was an historic beauty built in the rugged carvel style with exterior planks laid flat next to each other and fastened to the frames. Her lines had grace and yet she was a workboat designed for purpose on the shallow waters of Galway Bay where she was capable of being beached. She had a high freeboard and a beautiful fit of keel and rudder beneath the raked transom. The sides curved inward toward the top (known as "tumblehome") to minimize the catch of waves and ocean spray. Her hull was painted a non-pretentious black because Hookers were originally coated with pitch. The black just added to her elegance.
There are three
sails: the mainsail, a foresail, and a jib which is gracefully extended beyond the bow on a bowsprit. And as if this elegant woman is going out for the evening, her dress is a provocative set of sails that are a distinguished red-brown. All Hookers have traditional crimson sails originally made by tanning with substances including tree bark and butter to act as a preservative and add UV protection.
by Bill Hudson
After my first encounter with this Hooker in Spiddal, I began to spot them in small clusters throughout the shorelines and harbors of Connemara. Most are newer versions made to meet the growing demand for this old classic. But with each sighting I'd instinctively begin snapping photographs wondering about the contribution of each Hooker to the rich history of this Irish region.
And now you may understand how I fell weak, another victim in love with a woman who has been working the sea for hundreds of years, and a woman that men still gladly pay to own ...... the Galway Hooker.