Long Story Short
Corinna discovered the magnificent seaweed she uses in her art while spearfishing with her parents as a young child on Martha’s Vineyard. When she was a preteen, Corinna came upon a green seaweed bookmark which was being sold at a bookstore. She was immediately inspired, and began making Seaweed Art Cards. A few years later, on a visit to Gay Head, the renowned Life and Time magazine photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, bought all of her cards and asked to “meet the artist.” Even though she never met him, Corinna had a telephone call with him many years later and was happily surprised that he not only remembered buying all of her cards, but that he was so enthusiastic about how beautiful they were. His letter to her can be seen on her website’s Testimonials page.
Short Story Long
I think I came out of the womb with mask, flippers and snorkel in hand, ready to explore the ocean, like my parents had been doing for years.
My love affair with seaweed began when I was very young. The first seaweed I handled was the kind I gathered to cover the Rock Bass/Black Bass that my parents would shoot. They would swim to shore with their fish, and I would meet them in waist deep water, grab their fish between the gills with my thumb and middle finger-so it couldn’t wriggle off-bring it to the beach, kill it, then cover it with lots of wet seaweed to keep it fresh. It was of the dark, heavy and brown variety.
When my parents first discovered the Island in the late 40s, years before children arrived, they stayed in Charlie Vanderhoop’s Chicken Coop in Gay Head. Both from Europe, my father was an avid spearfisherman before coming to the United States, and wanted to find a place to spear fish near Boston, where they lived. My mother loved the sport as well. Someone mentioned Martha’s Vineyard, and they fell in love right away., as we all do… They suited up on the beach with head to toe wetsuits, utilizing baby powder to get them on, donned their weight belts and spearguns, and off they went. In those days, we heartily enjoyed scampering up and down the cliffs to the best diving spots beneath the Aquinnah restaurant, as Ann will testify. Climbing back up the cliffs with 30-50 pounds of fish and all the diving gear was a little more challenging!
When I was five, my parents bought our home on the hill. In 1875 it was known as the Gay Head Inn, or the Divine Homestead as some elderly locals remembered it. The ferry used to dock down the beach below the house, and at low tide, one can sometimes still see remnants of the dock’s pylons. Its guests used to dine at the Inn, and even stay overnight.
On one of our rare trips “into the big city” of Vineyard Haven, I saw a green seaweed bookmark made by Rose Treat at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore. I still remember the lights going off in my mind when I saw it, and I immediately thought “What a great idea! I’m going to do that with “pink” seaweed.” I was eleven or twelve. So, although the seaweed art making method I developed is entirely my own, I always give Rose credit, as she was my inspiration.
And thus began my many experimentations with seaweed. There were many sad moments when I would wake in the morning to find that the seaweed hadn’t stuck to the paper, or that the paper wrinkled while it dried. It still happens that I will wake up in the middle of the night, and feel that “my babies” need attending to, before they get too dry, and I will get up and see how they are doing, perhaps start putting them into their fancy presses of (the old large) phonebooks, and cover them with heavy weight belts and fossils. But of course there were those glorious successful times when I would marvel at the indescribable beauty of nature, and be fully able to capture it on paper.
As I got older, I eventually figured out how to work with the various seaweeds and different papers. There was a lot of trial and error, and even today, there still are those times when an idea, or a seaweed, doesn’t work, and….it’s just sad, as it was so beautiful and I wanted to show you…
By age fifteen, I had captured the eye of world renowned Life and Time photographer Mr. Alfred Eisenstaedt. I like to say that he was my first very famous fan.
He was up at the Gay Head Cliffs, and he bought every single one of the seaweed cards I had for sale. When I went up there to see how the sales were doing, Lucille Vanderhoop told me that “a man from Life and Time bought all of your cards and said he ‘wanted to meet the artist.’ ” I mentioned this to my mother, who knew who he was and that he stayed every summer in the next town over called Menemsha. But she must have been too busy between being a beautiful European mother of three, making perfect meals, fossil hunting, spearfishing and hosting cocktail parties on the deck during sunset to find the time to take me to meet him.
As my sweet husband says “Well, if you had met him, we may not have met…” That helps a little…and I do have the letter he wrote me many years later after I called him; taking matters into my own hands about connecting with him myself, at twenty something years old.
I never forgot that although I never met him, Mr. Eisenstaedt had admired and loved my seaweed art. In 1989, while I was living in California and missing my Vineyard immensely, I called Life and Time magazine to see if I could talk with him. We had a delightful conversation. When I asked him if by any chance he remembered buying all of my seaweed cards, nineteen years ago… he answered enthusiastically “Of course I remember them! They are so beautiful!” (I noticed that he used the present tense.) What an honor it was that almost twenty years later, that he remembered my seaweed cards!
I sent him a seaweed note card to thank him for the call, and asked him if he would be kind enough to write me a little something about my seaweed art. Within days, I received a beautiful letter referring to my seaweed art as “outstanding,” and he recommended that I call the Granary Gallery, where he displayed his work, to show my art there. Another huge honor!
Besides loving the creative process and watching some of the colors change as the seaweed dries, I so enjoy seeing the reactions to people when they see my art. When I tell them that all the colors are 100% natural, it never fails that they will point to a bright pink or purple one and say, “Wow. But not ‘this’ one, right?! Really?! Even this one? NO! That’s amazing! How can it be!?”
After seeing my work in 2012, a wise and sweet Vineyard elder dubbed me “Rose Treat’s Seaweed Heir.” She was the Island’s very first recognized Seaweed artist. I gladly accept the compliment. Rose died in 2012, and her work is highly regarded and can be seen at the Smithsonian. Perhaps one day….
In her letter to me, and on the phone when I called her the year before she passed away, Rose told me that she thought my work was beautiful. She may have been impressed that I invented my process, instead of being one of the students who took her seaweed art classes. Rose usually made pictures with the seaweed, like of the human form. For me, I find seaweed so beautiful in it’s natural state, that I like to portray how it looks when I see it in the water. I like to make it dance on the paper as if it was still floating.
Here’s to more seaweed beauty!