Nancy Patterson is an artist who lives in Mauricetown, on Cumberland County's bayshore, and has wooden sailboats in her blood. Boats run so thick in her bloodlines she knows her mother was on a sailboat, racing as Nancy's father's crew, while Nancy was a tiny stowaway - riding the boat in her mom's womb.
So it's probably no surprise one of this artist's favorite creative subjects is the A.J. Meerwald, New Jersey's official tall ship and her increasingly famous neighbor in the bayshore area.
Patterson figures she has featured the Meerwald at least five times in her art, including paintings specifically of the schooner under sail, and pen-and-ink drawings of Delaware Bay's old-time oyster fleet - of which the Meerwald is the last known local survivor. And that's not counting all the photographs Patterson has taken of the tall ship.
The Bayshore Center at Bivalve, the organization that restored and runs the Meerwald, knows many more artists have turned their attention and talents on their iconic boat over the years. And because the Bayshore Center is celebrating two key birthdays this year - the group's own 25th and the Meerwald's 85th - people at the center are hoping to collect and display as much Meerwald-centric art as possible this month.
They're putting everything they get together in an exhibit, "Salute to a Schooner: A Visual Celebration of the A.J. Meerwald." The show will open at the Bayshore Center's waterfront home in Bivalve Friday evening - as one of the main draws at the center's popular Second Friday celebration, a monthly party that also features live music, food, drinks, crafts, history talks and more.
"This is not a juried show - we will accept anything," says Susan Zipper, who took over running the Bayshore Center's art gallery earlier this year. "I'm hoping for kids' stuff, old photos people have - just an amalgam of all sorts of pieces on the Meerwald. ... We're also hoping to get a couple of models of the ship.
But don't get the wrong idea here: The sponsors want the art to be mounted and framed and ready to put up in the gallery. And they have limited times when they can accept the pieces, including 2 to 4 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday at the Bayshore Center. For full details of the rules and requirements, see the group's website, bayshorecenter.org.
Still, the goal is to include things that fit into the theme for the monthlong exhibit, not keep them out.
"For this show, we're going to put up basically everything that comes in," says Janis Traas, a Bayshore Center spokeswoman. "Because September is our 25th anniversary as an organization ... we decided to have a special birthday party."
Deb Shaw, of Middle Township, is the administrative director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and says she doesn't "really consider myself an artist." But she is an admirer and amateur practitioner of a German art form called scherenschnitte, which translates into finely detailed, truly intricate paper-cutting. She started out doing snowflakes, but she was inspired by her friend, Zipper, to try to make a paper cutout of a tall ship - fully rigged.
"I'm always trying to make it more and more creative. ... I have a snowflake I cut for a friend - and it's all seahorses," Shaw said.
"I thought a big, white boat with white sails would lend itself well to this art form," she adds - yes, she's using white paper for the project. "But I have to let go of some of my need for perfection. You can't possibly get every rope and every line in there. You can't cut the paper too fine, because then you can't touch it."
Another novel image of the boat lined up for the show is by an artist named Aleasa Hogate, from Pennsville in Salem County, who painted the Meerwald on an unlikely sounding surface - an "antique muskrat stretcher," as Traas puts it. (For those of us who don't live in muskrat-trapping country, that would be a board used to stretch out the critter's fur as it dries.)
Peg Dittmar, an award-winning wildlife artist who's also from Middle Township, has had her work available for sale at the Bayshore Center's First Fridays in the past. But she did a watercolor of the Meerwald itself specifically for this birthday show.
"It's a wonderful subject - a beautiful ship," says Dittmar, who once enjoyed going out for a sail on the Meerwald around Bivalve. "They were shucking oysters, they had wine - it was very nice."
Nancy Patterson figures she lives about seven miles up the Maurice River from Bivalve. She also has gone sailing on the Meerwald, including one adventure she'll never forget - because it was her mom's last sail ever.
Her mother, known as Bert, was 87 when she died in 2010. Before she did, Nancy was thrilled to get Bert out for a ride on the Meerwald - and she knows deep in her heart she wasn't the only one.
"The appeal never dies - I don't care how old you are," Nancy says. "My mom was tickled silly to be on that boat."
Now it's true the Pattersons may love sailing and sailboats a bit more than most other families. Nancy's grandfather, Arthur C. Patterson, was a founder and one of the first commodores of the Sea Isle City Yacht Club. An uncle, Harold Patterson, was another club commodore, as was Nancy's father, A. Carl Patterson - who also was the sailing coach and gymnastics coach at Temple University in Philadelphia.
But it was her dad, the founder of the yacht club's youth-sailing program before he died in 1968 - at 45 - the SICYC honored by naming the Patterson Room for him. (That was the kids' area of the old clubhouse; the yacht club knocked down that building last fall and finished a new clubhouse earlier this year.)
Nancy and her brothers and cousins, including Lynne Shirk, of Sea Isle City, grew up sailing moth boats, 11-foot-long, ultra-thin wooden boats made strictly for racing. And Nancy got to be pretty good at it - good enough to be the women's national champion in 1975, when the competition was held in Sea Isle.
"I'm a big wooden boat fan, and a big history buff," she says, standing back on the deck at the old/new yacht club - which she naturally plans to do a painting of soon.
That brings us back to the Meerwald, which to her is an "amazing boat, and its whole story is incredible" - especially the fact it was all but wrecked and sunk when Meghan Wren, the founder of the Bayshore Center, started the drive to reclaim and rebuild the boat in 1988.
So that helps explain why Patterson is so excited about her local tall ship in all its current splendor, and why it keeps sailing into her paintings and drawings.
"Anything that saves wooden boats is OK by me," Patterson says.
The people who run the Meerwald know this artist isn't the only one around who feels that way, and they expect to prove that when their art show - starring a sailboat - opens Friday.
Contact Martin DeAngelis:
If You Go
The Bayshore Center at Bivalve hosts Second Friday by the Bay 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday. The September celebration includes an A.J. Meerwald art show and a birthday cake for the center and its ship. The Bayshore Center is at 2800 High St., Port Norris. For more details, call 856-785-2060 or see bayshorecenter.org