In short, Ganseys are the hand knitted jumpers (sweaters) made by the wives and womenfolk of fisherman in the UK. Traditionally, the wool used was unprocessed in order to keep as many of the natural oils found in the wool intact. This helped to keep the jumpers relatively water resistant and the fisherman warm. The necks and sleeve cuffs of Ganseys were knitted very tight as to not let wind and rain in...so much so they were virtually impossible to remove without injuring ears! Each fishing village has it's own knitted (Aran) pattern which served to represent the family who knitted it as well as to identify any fisherman who may have perished at sea. As an artist, I find the romance in fishing folklore too hard to resist. I lose myself in the mystery and the stories and the memories...and I'm absolutely mesmerized by how hard they worked and how devoted they were to God and family. There are countless superstitions and myths that go way back...and some are still practiced to this day!
I love British fishing history and maritime folklore. I always have. Being American, I never really got to experience it first hand until I moved to England. My first taste of it was when I visited Tintagel, Cornwall in 2000. The rugged landscape and minimalist architecture there blew me away. There was a sea shanty (or rather a very small wood cottage, but I just love the word 'sea shanty') right on the cliff side, covered in nets, and glass floats and had an old brass diving bell in the garden. At night, you could see into the little house and there was a wood burning stove, beamed ceiling and an old man sitting inside reading the paper. I so wanted to knock on the door and invite myself in for tea and chat...about old times...fishing stories...some songs perhaps. Of course, I didn't, but seeing that house will always stay with me and fuel my imagination of what it could be, could have been, was...etc.
Since then I have tried to visit as many old fishing villages in England as possible. I am particularly drawn to the domestic life of fishing families. I'm sure it didn't seem so at the time, but there is a certain romance in the way they lived their lives, so totally dependent on the sea and at the mercy of her moods. Fishing was extremely dangerous and many, many fisherman never made it back home. It was common for fathers, sons and grandsons to all go out fishing and if tragedy struck, it could wipe out a whole family. This precarious, teetering on a wire way of living fascinates me. A strong connection to God, faith and superstitions was woven into all aspects of domestic life...including food, crafts and even how and when the women did their chores. All of which is fertile ground to create some great imagery. I have been researching maritime folklore, on and off, for a couple years now and I never seem to grow tired of it. Not a day goes by that I don't think about some of the amazing little villages I have seen and I keep the 'wish fires' burning that perhaps some day I will be in a position to buy my own little sea shanty (in Cornwall for sure) with a fantastic view and a wood burning stove.