The feeling in Gloucester is of multiple layers of support for a fisheries tradition and honoring of the past, while simultaneously facing a new future, and how that all fits together with issues that other working harbors and cities are confronting.
Around every corner of the city, there is public art and interpretive trails, much of it connected to fishing. On the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce building is The Fish Workers Mural (featuring fishermen and quarry workers) organized by the organization Awesome Gloucester. The organization also helped create The Doryman’s Mural, in an exterior wall of the Dory Shop on the Maritime Gloucester campus. It commemorates the role dorymen played in the area.
The impressive legacy and efforts of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives, many women, and the group’s longtime president Angela Sanfillipo are on full display at the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wife Memorial, which is situated on a stretch of waterfront road that wraps around the city’s western harbor. The bronze statue depicts a woman facing out toward the sea, with a baby in her left arm, and her hand on the back of a young boy. The monument honors the women who have been, and continue to be, the soul of fishing communities.
The Fishermen’s Wife Memorial took over a decade to be fully realized. It was unveiled in the summer of 2001 after more than $700,000 was raised for its completion. For some, the sculpture complements the nearby Man at the Wheel sculpture built in 1925, a bronze fisherman braced at the wheel on the sloping deck of his ship, looking out to Gloucester Harbor. The heavily visited site memorializes the thousands of fishermen lost at sea in the first three centuries of Gloucester's history.
Sanfilippo is proud of the The Fishermen’s Wife Memorial and sculpture, even though she says “some were not happy about it, at first. They were saying it would take away from the Fishermen’s Memorial and Man at the Wheel sculpture.” But Sanfilippo will never forget the day when many people came out to celebrate it, and did not want to leave.
“In the rain, or weather, there are always people there,” she says. “People are there, no matter what time of day.”
For Jackie Odell, executive director of the nonprofit Northeast Seafood Coalition (NSC) for 20 years. the Fishermen’s Wife Memorial and sculpture reveals “the untold story.”
People often assume that “the fishing industry is men on boats. They don’t realize all the infrastructure and support around that, to make it all work,” says Odell. “When people say ‘the fishing industry’ many don’t realize the breadth of that. To support the boat that goes out fishing, there’s a whole host of businesses that go on, shoreside. Many people are women.”
Ultimately, the Fisherman’s Wives sculpture allows people to pause and feel connected, said Odell.
“I feel nostalgic and my heart warms when I see [it]. It connects you more to the waterfront, and it personalizes it.” And Odell said it recognizes that the fishing industry here is something bigger and it celebrates “all the people connected to the waterfront, just not the man at the wheel – but also all the women, children and families, and the strength of the women that are here, to support the whole fishing community.
Everyone is involved,” says Odell “Those not from a fishing community may not realize how many women are connected to the ocean, and that symbol.”