Often, it is art that records history. Sometimes it celebrates it. In the case of the Dare County Arts Council exhibition, The Chicamacomico Shake Show,” art does both.
The Chicamacomico Historical Association and Dare County Arts Council are co-hosting the 100-piece exhibit, which continues through Saturday, Aug. 25, that has numerous artists painting or creating art atop old cedar shakes preserved during a renovation of the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe. Located in the second-floor gallery at the arts council, the 100 cedar shake works appear in the form of paintings, stained glass mosaics, encaustic, and collage. The art exhibit honors the rescue of “Mirlo,” that occurred when the 6,997-ton British tanker was hit by a torpedo on Aug. 16, 1918. In conjunction with the anniversary, Chicamacomico Historic Site also is scheduling a variety of activities that can be viewed at chicamacomico.org.
History informs us that during World War I, “U-117” intended to lay mines off Cape Hatteras when it spotted the British Tanker “Mirlo.” The German submarine turned its attention to the destruction of the tanker. A single torpedo was fired that ignited “Mirlo’s” cargo of gasoline, and the tanker exploded within ten minutes. “Mirlo’s” captain ordered abandon ship. Nine crewmembers died when their lifeboat overturned. The remaining 42 survivors were rescued using a surfboat from the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. Moving through heavy seas and ocean aflame, with heat so intense it peeled the paint off the boat, the lifesavers managed to reach “Mirlo’s” remaining lifeboats and pull them to safety.
The surfmen received United States gold medals of honor as well as the Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor from the British government.
Some artists chose to honor the rescue of “Mirlo” by painting on their shakes the Chicamacomico boathouse and/or station, and surfmen dragging the lifeboat cart through the sand. Others paid homage to the sea through which the lifesavers rowed by painting calm seascapes, underwater scenes of brilliantly colored fish and sea life. There are shipwrecks, crashing waves, portrait of Keepers, and a ghost ship in front of a full moon. To show the many faces of the sea that afford both recreation and work, there are surfers waiting at the edge admiring a mammoth wave, a peaceful ocean with sailing vessels, a work boat and a little rowboat peopled with men in vintage clothing. Shakes are adorned with egrets, sanderlings, sea horses, a jellyfish and an octopus. Local lighthouses are represented, as well as fantasy images of mermaids, and sea monsters. Most of the creative endeavors are representational paintings, but there are some visually arresting and abstract collages and glorious abstract paintings that shimmer with sparkly, brilliant color.
When you purchase a shake painting, you not only get an original work of art merged with an historic shake surrounded by acts of heroism, but the money — $100 per shake — supports the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station.