Multimedia artist Abigail Read collected, brought each piece from Matinicus Island

Lobster trap debris becomes a patchwork quilt art installation

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 8:45am

    APPLETON— In most paintings of Maine islands, conspicuously absent is the debris and junk that regularly washes up onto its shorelines. A lot of it tends to be ghost gear— lobster traps that have been smashed apart by the weather and have drifted to shore in mangled pieces.

    Appleton artist Abbie Read, whose family owns property on Matinicus Island, noticed the junk along the shoreline and decided to haul piece by piece back to the mainland. No, not to the dump, to her studio.

    “I spend a lot of time on Matinicus and for years, I’ve been collecting these little pieces of broken, rusted traps and all of the parts,” she said.

    Read said she’d haul back the unsightly debris  from the island to the mainland and store them in her studio, unsure of what would become of it. 

    “I always had it in the back of my mind I’d make something with the pieces,” she said. “Then, last spring when Waterfall Arts held a call for artists on the theme of Intertidal Zones, I began to assemble all of the pieces into an installation. For me, all of the junk that gets washed up on Matinicus was perfect for that theme.”

    After the Waterfall Arts show concluded, the community arts center allowed Read to hang the installation on the second floor wall by the stairway, where it now resides indefinitely. Only those familiar with the lobster industry will notice some of the details in the rigging. Woven throughout the pieced-together grids of the wire traps are discarded bait bags, nylon netting, a plastic escape hatch, old frayed warp. Broken and lost gear is an economic hardship lobster fishermen know only too well. These unglamorous workaday pieces of fishing gear have now transformed into a tribute to the many unknown generations of lobstermen.

    But, there is one more layer to this installation; and one has to know Abbie Read’s particular style of work to catch it. Within the rigging, which is patched up like a crazy quilt from various broken traps, are subtle grids made from linen thread that Read has constructed, which mimic the gridwork of the broken traps and blends right into the exhibit. These handmade nets also lace across her multimedia collages, which often incorporate altered books, maps, found objects and natural materials such as stone.

    Read isn’t done with the piece.

    “I stopped working on it because I ran out of materials,” she said. “But, I still plan of adding to it, it’s just a matter of being able to haul this stuff back from the island. I call it an ongoing project because it will get bigger. It no longer fits in my studio.”

    For now the piece can be seen at Waterfall Arts.

    For more information visit: Abbie Read and Waterfall Arts

    Related: Check out this altered book ‘library’ at the Belfast Free Library

    Kay Stephens can be reached at