COREA—Markham and Suzanne Starr are two different artists inspired by the same source material—the Maine lobstering way of life. In 2011, Markham published a photography book titled Finest Kind: The Lobstermen of Corea, depicting the lives of Corea, Maine, lobstermen. His wife, Suzanne, a nationally recognized award-winning artist, got inspired by those photographs and drew a number of charcoal and graphite portraits of Maine people and places.
The couple is from North Stonington, Connecticut, where Markham, who worked for many years at Mystic Seaport, developed a love for the fishing industry.
“Years ago, he was granted the rights to come up to Prospect Harbor and photograph the sardine factory in its last days,” said Suzanne. “He got connected with someone who worked at the sardine factory who lived in Corea and visited her. He found Corea a place that is truly untouched, uncommercialized.”
It’s probably not a coincidence that both Suzanne and Markham’s work mirrors one another’s style.
“My husband is very partial to black and white photography and that, in turn, has inspired me to draw primarily in black and white,” said Suzanne. As an art teacher for many years, she is now retired and works on her art full-time. Her involvement with the American Artist Professional League, a national organization, has led to her participation in national shows.
Suzanne’s portraits are crisp and striking with some capturing a desolate tone.
“I really like the story behind each drawing, especially, the story in someone’s face,” she said. “Color can shout; it can be beautiful, but to me, it often distracts from what you’re trying to see. I really love the textures, the subtlety and contrast. When you see black and white photographs from long ago, there is a timelessness to them; they tell a story of a reality that’s not tangible anymore. That’s how it feels to me with black and white tones, instead of colors.”
Portraits of people’s faces are some of her favorite, such as the depiction of a young man working the trap hauler in one image. “When Mark was doing the project in Maine, we stayed in Gouldsboro, Maine,” she explained of the portrait. “Just down the road, was this family, the Whitakers, a big lobstering family who fish out of Corea. We became friendly with them and Mark spent some time on their boats. This young man’s name is Ethan and he was about 20 years old when that photo was taken. Once I did the drawing, Ethan’s father reached out to me to buy the drawing for Ethan as a surprise Christmas gift.”
Today, Suzanne does commissions of portraits, the majority from the general population, but some from fishing families, who’ve seen her work online and at shows.
The lobstering life holds a fascination for many artists who view it from the outside in. From her work with the people in the industry, Suzanne has come to understand what makes these communities tightly knit.
“It’s just who they are and what they do, and despite all the difficulties, it’s a life they wouldn’t trade,” she said.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org