Expanded Version of
Column Which First Appeared in Gloucester Daily Times
April 4, 2002
No.1-The Little Fish Shack
Which Refused to Go Away
Battered and broken by the great winter storm of 1978, Motif No.1 collapsed, and in an eye blink, was swept out of Rockport harbor. Within the year, a duplicate had been built and repainted to look as good as new. The merited debate over rebuilding the motif has subsided through the 20some years, those who might have wished the Motif to never resurface, would have welcomed a bumper sticker reading, "Stamp Out Motif No.1!" Yet today we celebrate "Stamp Out!" Motif No.1 - the featuring of the Motif Scene on the Massachusetts stamp as part of the "Greetings from America" postage stamp set. The stamp set harkens back to the 1930s -1940s era of 'large letter' postcards. And it is within that time span that the allure of Motif No.1 was created, refined and marketed.
But the Motif was there before it was there...
Bradley Wharf had been an active fish landing and storage area since the American Civil War. As the fishing industry increased and as the immediate offshore areas around Straitsmouth and Thachers became desired fishing grounds, the original Motif building set afirm on granite foundation, offered convenient and immediate storage for gear and fish. A succession of individual owners including Howard Hodgkins, George and John Tarr, gave way to the Rockport Pier Company. The first amalgam of the Motif with tourism occurred with the visits by the US Naval Fleet each summer to Sandy Bay. Fleet visits commenced in the late 1890s and continued up through the 1930s. The great battleships, anchored off Granite Pier and the Headlands, issued launches to bring tourists out to the ships for daily inspections. Visits by the "Great Fleets" grew to be one of the North Shore's premier summer events, advertising in Boston papers suggested that people rendezvous next to the "fish shack on the rocks;" upwards of 8 launches at a time embarked from both sides of Motif No.1.
The Motif settled into
a peaceful coexistence between the fisherman and the tourist. A Charles Cleaves
photo from 1930 taken from the backside of the Motif shows a group of tourists
waiting for a launch. This while the inner side of the Motif, facing the town,
remains a working pier. In the first brochure 1927 published by the Board
of Trade, a line illustration by John Buckley (soon to purchase the shack
for his own studio) reveals a fisherman in profile with basket of fish in
hand along the wharf, the Motif in the background. And for decades since,
this is how the Motif has been profiled, a suffering backdrop for painters
painting the Motif and harbor, cigarette ads, photographs for kodak film.,
all deploying the imaged Motif.
In 1933 the Rockport Legionnaires built a 27 foot replica float of the Motif which was driven out to the Chicago World's Fair of 1933 for participation in the American Legion's Convention. The project ultimately involved the entire town- Rockport Art Association members were centrally committed as Aldro Hibbard oversaw the design and construction and Anthony Thieme headed the painting of the float, half-boat sideboards and drop clothes. Townspeople contributed materials and handwork to create a perfect illusion. Driven only by day from Bearskin Neck to Chicago on the Great Lake, each night the float would stop, floodlights would be set up and brochures on Rockport passed out to that night's town's people. The first great national marketing campaign for Rockport then, was championed by Motif No.1. The enchantment lasted beyond the trip for once the float made it to Chicago, it was berthed 3 days at the naval pier, where word spread and Chicago's citizenry, and the Legionnaires hastened to take pictures. The day of the Legion parade, the float took first place in the historic float competition and returned to a huge welcoming parade of over 4.500 people lining the street down Five Corners. The float faded away, the Motif endured. In 1945, the town of Rockport purchased the Motif as a monument to Rockporters who had served in the Armed Services.
In 1950 with the completion of the 'Demon Road' (Route 128) and the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge, the entire Cape Ann community was at once susceptible to the whimsy of the day traveller. Businesses realized that "If people don't get their monies worth, they move on." Two shrewd marketing moves were initiated by the Rockport Board of Trade and chairwoman Melissa Smith. 'The Rockport Anchor,' a yearly recycling of Rockport history, lore, events and topical information, began publication in 1950. By its third issue the cover was devoted to the image of the Motif. As the times changed, so did the imagery cycling from line art, to photography and then back to paintings of "that darn Motif." The second great move was the creation of Motif No. 1 Day.. A late May Saturday celebrated spring and the return of the business cycle; at its height, Motif No.1 Day included, costumed characters, parades, and judged window decorations by shops up and down Beaskin Neck. The day enveloped and outlasted Rockport's Old Home Day. On Motif Day 1998, to commerate dual anniversaries - the 20th anniversary of the rebuilding of the Motif and 65th anniversay of the Motif float's visit to Chicago, I received permission to open the Motif for a public walkthrough. Over 150 locals and visitors came through that day. This personal, slight addition to the Motif tradition will now continue for a fifth consecutive year this coming May.
In 1942, Aldro Hibbard organized Rockport artists to paint the old fish house, four galleons of crank case oil were added to a red paint mixture to prevent glare, and he warned them to "keep away from that barn red." His foresight to keep away the glare has served Motif No.1 well. Motif No. 1 is where the land meets the sea, while we would like to claim personal immortality against the elements, the Motif reveals a quiet weathering before the winds and tides and sea and Cape Ann light.
©2002 by Leslie D. Bartlett. All rights reserved.