Thursday, October 21, 2010

Newfoundland currency

 Salt cod on Sikishu paper 18 x 22
'Once so thick in the water that John Cabot reported they could be brought aboard by the bucket, Atlantic cod have been fished in Canada since the 1480's and were justifiably known as 'Newfoundland currency'.

This 'currency' had even inspired a Newfoundland stamp.  If fresh cod were the currency, then salt cod were the gold that kept people throughout the island alive in long harsh winters.   After harvesting fish, fishermen (or more like their wives) laid the split fish on 'flakes' near the water to dry.  Salt cod is commonly produced in Canada, Iceland, Norway and Portugal and has been for over 500 years. It forms a traditional ingredient of the cuisine of many countries around the Atlantic.

Part of my gyotaku printing is salt cod.  Even in the age of freezers, many Newfoundlanders still dry cod and preserve it for later use.  Often it is covered with salt and either hung to dry or sometimes electric heat is used.   The resulting fish needs rehydrating in several changes of water to remove a lot of the salt and its a prime candidate for the traditional 'fish and brewis'.  Its something you either like or hate.  My heart can only take the salt and fat content about once every five years.

So a local fisherman gave me some whole salt cod with detailed instructions on how to cook it.  I didn't dare tell him I would be printing with it, not eating it! 


I used a couple of different Japanese papers to print several different colours from the fish.  This Unryu paper has swirls of fibre running through it, giving it texture and adding another dimension to the print.  The other paper I used was a handmade Sekishu.  I used oil based inks for the printing and the pieces are about 18 x 22.

 Salt cod under Unryu paper

I loved the look of the fish under the Unryu paper, its impossible to stop patting the fish gently when its under such lightweight paper.  The paper seems so fragile and it is when wet, but it also can withstand some manipulating with care.  Each print is a surprise as I never know exactly how the ink will adhere and just how each print will look.  That is part of the magic of gyotaku.

8 comments:

jeanette, mistress of longears said...

Fascinating post! How unusual to use the flayed open preserved fish!

Jeanette said...

Jeanette, its such a part of the Newfoundland culture I had to include it in the project.

Lori-Lee Thomas... said...

Haha! I grew up on this stuff because of my father. And it's funny cause when i saw the thumbnail of your print, for some reason i immediately thought of the old Newfoundland postage stamps. Hehe! I LOVE this. I would totally buy a print like this for its sentimental value for me. :)

RHCarpenter said...

I always enjoy your gift of some Newfoundland history/culture with your art posts. I, too, like the Unruyu paper - delicate but tough enough :)
My word verification was sialtelt = someone's misspelling of salt it?

Jeanette said...

Lori, its so 'Newfoundland' isn't it, this salt cod?

I shall be sure that you get an original print as a little thank you for your part in this. I'm printing some more tonight. Any colour preference?

Thanks Rhonda. Newfoundland is such an unknown in many ways, I like to share a bit of the culture and history of the place.

funny about the word verification. I think sometimes it seems to go with the topic!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I like the paper which gives it the texture of the scales - and, of course it looks great as always

Jeanette said...

Thanks Katherine. All the papers give scale and fin texture, where it exists. The distinction of the pattern varies slightly between the paper and there are other variables that affect the final outcome.

Jo Castillo said...

These are always fun and interesting to see. I love the history lesson, too. :)