LANCASTER, Va. (AP) - The white boots worn by the working watermen of the Northern Neck have many nicknames, like “guinea slippers” and “Tangier tennis shoes.”
But soon, the iconic footwear favored by the watermen who pull crabs, fish and oysters from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries will become the focus of a public art project centered in Lancaster County in the Northern Neck.
Sponsors will buy or rent oversized fiberglass boots, artists will decorate them in unique styles and then visitors can step into the finished project to take photos they hopefully will share on social media.
The project, titled “Watermen’s Way,” will raise money for three groups: the Virginia Watermen’s Association, the Irvington Steamboat Era Museum and the Rappahannock Art League.
The displays of the public art pieces are expected to be a tourism draw, as they’ll each be listed on a map posted on the project’s Facebook page and in other spots.
But all the partners say the project’s driving factors are honoring watermen and sharing details about how they harvest a bounty of seafood.
“People are really fascinated these days with where the food they eat comes from,” said Susan Cockrell, deputy manager for the town of Kilmarnock, one of the partners responsible for creating and managing Watermen’s Way. “These uniquely decorated boots will give us a chance to share details about particular watermen and what they do to bring in their catch.”
Barbara Brecher came up with the idea. She is the executive director of the Steamboat Era Museum, which is also helping to coordinate the project.
Brecher, an artist who did publishing and worked in civic groups in Alexandria before moving to the Northern Neck, said she’d seen something similar done there but took a while settling on what to decorate in the Northern Neck.
Oyster shells, crabs and other seafood were early ideas, but when Brecher and others saw a pair of oversized boots on a visit to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md., they realized boots were the best fit.
“These boots are worn by all the watermen, and are great symbols for them,” said Brecher. “The white makes a great backdrop for artists to decorate and they’re open in the back for visitors to step into.”
Managing partners for the project include the tourism/marketing entity Virginia’s River Realm, a joint venture that includes both Lancaster and Middlesex counties, the Rappahannock Art League, Lancaster by the Bay Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Watermen’s Association.
Cockrell said artists are now being sought. Once they join the project, they will work with the sponsors to decide how to decorate the boots.
“We’re hoping that for at least a few of them, the work could happen in a storefront or a spot where the public could watch,” said Cockrell.
Jan Dobrowolski, a jewelry designer affiliated with the Rappahannock Art League in Kilmarnock, said artists throughout the Northern Neck are excited about taking part in the project.
“I’ve already seen a few sketches from artists who have interesting ideas for this,” said Dobrowolski, who operates Talulah Design Studio.
Sponsors can buy the boots - which are roughly 4 feet wide and 3 feet tall - for $4,000. They must agree to display them in one spot from June of this year to August of 2018.
Those who rent a pair for $2,500 will display them at a fixed location for the same period. After that, the boots will be auctioned off to benefit the project sponsors.
“I love the way the project brings together different segments of the Northern Neck,” said Brecher. “Businesses and area institutions are sponsors, artists make each pair of boots unique and we’re bringing attention to the watermen who are the backbone of the region.”
Cockrell noted that the hope is to share information about the watermen in many different ways, from kiosks or plaques with the boots to videos and information shared online.
She said that while the majority of the boots bought and rented likely will be centered in Lancaster and Kilmarnock, there’s no limit on where they can go.
“If a business or individual in Montross or Colonial Beach wants to sponsor a pair, they’re welcome,” she said, noting that the boots should be finished sometime in May.
Organizers hope to get 20 or more of the pairs of boots sold and displayed so residents and visitors can make a tour out of them.
For more information, go online to the Watermen’s Way page on Facebook.
Information from: The Free Lance-Star, https://www.fredericksburg.com/
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