Of Whales and Mermaids

Pencil and watercolor on paper by Joseph Bogart Hersey, American (fl. ca, 1843-51), Ship Corinthian of New London, from Hersey’s journal aboard the bark Samuel and Thomas of Provincetown, MA, John Swift master, September 12, 1846-April 13, 1848. 

Pencil and watercolor on paper by Joseph Bogart Hersey, American (fl. ca, 1843-51), Ship Corinthian of New London, from Hersey’s journal aboard the bark Samuel and Thomas of Provincetown, MA, John Swift master, September 12, 1846-April 13, 1848. 

One of the greatest pleasures in working with a close friend is that they understand you, perhaps even more than you understand yourself at times. Erin gets me; I only hope I can do the same for her. 

Anyone else like Melville? Probably not. I admit to not caring for him that much either, but Moby Dick gets me every single time. And although I have read the book too many times to count, the ending still always comes as a surprise. 

Late last winter, I had just finished reading Moby Dick for the millionth time and was very caught up in the history of the whaling industry in Nantucket and New Bedford. Not exactly fodder for design inspiration, but I admit to being swept away by nostalgia and well, was overly excited, as I often am when I feel inspired. This led to a rather amusing conversation: 

J$: What if we did something along the lines of Moby Dick? I just reread it and think there might be something useful there. 

(Insert long pause)

Erin: What I'm hearing is that you would like a wrap with a whale on it? 

J$: Well, not just any random whale. 

Erin: An albino sperm whale with a grudge? 

J$: Yeah—maybe a man eating whale isn't such a good idea for a baby wrap.  Maybe something less literal? It doesn't have to be a whale. Maybe a boat?

(Insert second long pause)

Erin: So like a yankee schooner or whaleboats? On a Pavo wrap? 

 A whaleship sailed with three to five whaleboats swinging from davits (cranes used on ships). Spares, usually two, were stowed on top of the after house at midship.

 A whaleship sailed with three to five whaleboats swinging from davits (cranes used on ships). Spares, usually two, were stowed on top of the after house at midship.

J$: Hmm . . . well, when you put it that way. Maybe not? Maybe something else? I don't know. 

Erin: Let me think. 

See, when Erin says," Let me think," that is typically code for, "Oh Good Lord, J$ has lost it." And in hindsight, I do feel rather silly. I mean, Herman Melville in wrap form doesn't exactly call to mind images of snuggles or sleepy dust. So, I dropped it and reminded myself that perhaps not everyone loves a good seafaring tale of whales and revenge. 

But here's where things get really, really amazing. 

Ama in work

Ama in work

Later that week, inspired by the powerful women sea urchin collectors in Japan known as Ama, Erin texted me a painting she had done. It was a gorgeous mermaid, painted with dark, bold strokes on rich, creamy paper. I gasped and dropped my phone. Erin will never call herself a painter, but I will. That painting painted on a cold winter's day in the filtered, lingering sunlight of a late afternoon would become our Ama.

 

Of course, no mermaid is complete without her coterie of friends. Aquaria followed the next week and Sea Star, which had been on the back burner for months, finally found her home with Ama and Aquaria. 

It's not Moby Dick for sure, but I will always have a deep and abiding fondness for Ama and her many friends. 

With special thanks to Cleo Li Lebron and her photogenic family.