Sculptor, Poet, long-time friend
How to speak of my relationship to Charlie Fisk, “old C.B.” as I used to call him, while working with and for him on pipe shade designs and carvings? I have no clear and hard recall of my first meeting with him but it might have been during the time after WWII when a bunch of us hung out with Ann Fisk’s brother Peter at the Governor Winthrop on Rockport’s Bearskin Neck. I guess we were (unaware of such repute) considered a hotbed of liberalism and scratchy political ideas for some time. But even as I revisit my Fisk memories it might just as well have been pre WWII when we both worked sea mossing for Ed Knowlton on Granite Pier. A gang of locals and others went out in large dories with 12 foot bronze rakes at low tide and raked up sea moss from the exposed and beneath the surface of the granite shores. Damned hard work. I have a framed poem written by Charlie entitled Sea Mossing At Milk Island” which is very precious to me.
I was nearing the end of my 15-year stint as a free-lance illustrator and not getting much work to support my growing family when I got a call from Charlie asking me if I’d like to carve a pipe organ. He had admired my woodblock prints and only he could extrapolate that technique to any part of a pipe organ.
My immediate response was to say that what in hell did I know about pipe organs and doubted that I could learn at that time of my life. But he insisted that we at least talk about it. He told me where the shop was at the time (off Maplewood Avenue in Gloucester) and to come over the next day and we’d see what we’d see. I showed up at the shop and the people there directed me to the Lanesville Congregational Church where Charlie was doing organ maintenance work.
I tiptoed into the church as Charlie was punching and tuning keys, for the first time seeing a pipe organ in an entirely new light, but still not understanding how I could become part of the building process of such a complicated instrument. He noted my presence and asked if I had ever been inside an organ and I replied that I’d only been outside a very few.
Charlie said that people could actually walk inside a pipe organ of any size and I’m sure I looked at him as if he’d asked me to get him a left handed monkey wrench. But he directed me to the small door on the side of the organ and told me to open it and go in over the walk boards. I did and as I got to the center of the organ he pulled all the stops and blasted off, the moving air actually flapping my pants legs… one of the most stirring moments of my life, then and ever after. I gingerly exited the organ, looked around the corner at a smiling Charlie at the keyboard and said, “You son of a bitch!!! You knew didn’t you?” He knew all right. I was hooked on the spot and all that remained to be done was to talk about what was expected of me and when I’d come to work at C. B. Fisk.
Even so, I need further convincing and Charlie did so by saying I should think of carvings as I did my woodcuts, only larger, thicker and more ornate. This gave me just enough finger hold to sign up. After this convincing I had to re-convince Charlie that his impulse to have me work on his organs was a good one so he insisted that I make full scale clay mockups for each and every carving on the Harvard organ, my on the job training piece. We finally did reach a point where I convinced Charlie that I had a minimal grasp of what needed to be done and I no longer had to make mockups, scale pieces for the model sufficing.
The years working for and with Charlie Fisk were the most fully creative and rewarding of most of the numerous art activities that have since cluttered up my life. We became creative brothers unlike any other association it’s been my pleasure to experience. We never had a moment’s doubt about themes for our various instruments… always the sea. The one time I tried to adapt designs to something more specifically local was for the main case at the House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. After extensive research into etchings of local flora and fauna Charlie said, “To hell with it. Let’s go back to the sea.” We were both very comfortable with this decision and I assume so was the church organ committee.