Varnamtown: An Aging Life
A quest to “capture the moments” in Varnamtown, a vanishing culture.
My name is Tony Alderman and I have been a painter for over 30 years. My passion is nautical scenes and, in particular, those vanishing moments in the life of our traditional fishing industry that is slowly disappearing, literally one boat at a time due to commercial, farmed and foreign fishing.
I plan to capture the history of one of these vanishing old finishing towns through photo realistic paintings of everyday life scenes. The medium of painting, like fishing, has been at the core of civilization for eons and has stood the test of time in holding a culture’s history intact.
The number of individual fishermen in our nation’s small fishing towns is decreasing rapidly as their children leave behind the fishing life for the university and the city. Some of these towns may not survive another generation, as they are now, and will simply become memories.
Two years ago, I was photographing a regatta in South Port, North Carolina, for a series of paintings of sailboats. In conversation with one of the locals, I heard about a nearby fishing town called Varnamtown. That afternoon, I got in my car and drove to see for myself what soon became an obsession.
Fishing has always been at the heart of Varnamtown. However, if the town is to survive, it will need to undergo dramatic change and the old way of life may be gone forever.
Before that happens, I want to capture the authenticity of this way of life: the docks, the boats, the markets, the bringing in of the catch, the people, the ties to the sea and the heart and personality of this people so tied to the whims of the ocean and the weather gods.
Until recently, over ninety percent of the men and women of Varnamtown made their living off the water. That number has been reduced to a small fraction. These who are left spend long days, often in hostile elements, to bring their catch to market. They compete with commercial fisherman and still hold their own, putting food on the table and a roof over their head.
The culture of Varnamtown is not unique but it is emblematic of a culture that is shared by small coastal towns and villages around the world. To capture the life in Varnamtown is to reflect on similar lives everywhere.
I expect my paintings to capture this way of life and to preserve it for future generations to see.
Through this project, I want to create a dialogue between historical societies and traditional fishing, to show the importance of the preservation of heritage, and to create dialogue through painting.
I plan to use both acrylics and watercolors to capture the images of this romantic and hard life.
In addition to my painting, I plan on instituting a weekly blog so that inhabitants of many similar cultures can contribute to the understanding of my work and its implications. We can all draw from a variety of resources as we explore our art.
RocketHub facilitates donations to this project. Your donation will be honored by a gift from me, the artist, in appreciation for your support. RocketHub operates as a “keep what I raise” funding mechanism: if I don’t reach my financial goal, I get to keep what I raise to propel the project forward.
I invite you to join me on this exciting artistic adventure!
Varnamtown: An Aging Life is a sponsored project of NYFA, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of Varnamtown: An Aging Life must be made payable to NYFA and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Most artists start young, knowing early that they have a talent and a passion for art. But, not Tony Alderman.
After completing his degree in Religion, Tony discovered his interest in painting by accident. When his wife took an introductory Art elective, Tony observed her work with fascination. Before long, he was painting.
The head of the Art Department saw Tony’s work and offered him a full scholarship. Tony then completed his second degree, this time in Art.
Since that time, Tony has worked on perfecting his craft in acrylic paint, as well as egg tempera and watercolor. He creates paintings with realism and often muted colors that evoke a subtle emotional connection with the viewer.
Early on, Tony found his art heavily influenced by artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer and Franz Klein. He found his eye and his art drawn to strong design elements, typically devoid of humans: simple shacks in a field, a solitary shrimp boat moored at the dock, a ball sitting alone on a porch, lots of windows and doors and peeling wallpaper.
In the late 1980’s Tony discovered Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte. The realism in Tony’s work gave way to fantasy. Though the images still maintained a need for an emotional connection, they were now surreal.
During this period, Tony accepted commissions for large-scale mural work in which he blended his love for both surrealism and realism. The local public school system commissioned him to paint full murals in the school lobbies and hallways. Soon, he was painting murals in private homes, as well.
As time passed, Tony tired of fitting his creativity to the needs of someone else’s vision. Then, one day while visiting his new favorite coffee shop in revitalized downtown Durham, he saw the reflection of the street scene in the glass doorway, with its many dips and bends. Suddenly, Tony found a new direction. The painting he created, Beyu Morning, now hangs in the front of the Beyu Cafe for all to see. What followed was a series of paintings of the city scenes that moved Tony and soon found a devoted following of local art lovers.
In recent years, Tony has rekindled his passion for nautical paintings. His ability to paint the scenes of sky and water and barnacles on the underside of boats are so life-like that the viewers often mistake his work for photographs.
This fascination took Tony to the North Carolina coast, where he discovered the beauty and elegance of the sailing world as well as the weathered and decaying world of the disappearing fishing communities.