From the Editor.
I've been told that this fly has its origins in my adopted hometown. Teasing out the layered backstories of the simplest of objects is an occupational hazard of mine, so you can imagine my delight when I recently had the opportunity to learn the whole story behind this tied fly.
About a year and a half ago, a scheduled exhibition for my gallery at work was postponed unexpectedly due to a family crisis, giving me only a few months to find a replacement. After an initial thought of panic, I mused that this could be an opportunity to pursue something that had been in the back of my mind for some time: to research and develop an exhibition on the Battenkill watershed, a region that I've called home for almost 30 years.
The Battenkill flows some 59 miles from Vermont through upstate New York's southern Washington County to the Hudson River, north of Albany but south of the Adirondacks. It became my mission to find both art and artifact to tell the stories of creativity inspired by the waters of this iconic river. Designed to be multidisciplinary, "Battenkill Inspired" would showcase the work of living artists, as well as look at the river's cultural history. The search led me to paintings by local artists, wooden covered bridges built to cross the river, the many industries that once drew power from its flow, the lure of Dionondehowa Falls and its pleasure park and the electricity generated for a trolley system, the world-class trout fishing with its own original fly patterns and personalities, the decorated rafts of the 1960s-1970s for a timed float and competition, and current efforts to preserve this valuable resource.
It was a mad scramble to pull this off, but worth the effort. Some 50 artists, individuals, and organizations participated. The exhibition featured paintings and prints, photography and magazine cover art, postcards and maps, hand-tied fishing flies, hunting and decorative decoys, a boat, jewelry, dolls, sculptures, a bridge model, and artifacts from the many mills.
People loved the exhibition. It resonated with our patrons, because the layered stories were connected to the art and artifacts.
The story of the Shushan Postmaster was one of many stories told. The fly is named for Al Prindle, the postmaster of the hamlet of Shushan, 1935-1947, who, after retiring, liked nothing better than to fish the Battenkill. He became a fishing buddy and good friend of Lew Oatman (1902-1958), a retired banker who bought a home on the Battenkill. Oatman, who had been a trout fisherman all his life, upon retirement devoted his time to fishing, making trout flies, and writing articles on the art of trout fishing. He became known as the pioneer of the streamer fly patterns, studying the baitfish (or young fries) in the Battenkill and imitating them by creating 17 new innovative patterns, with names like Battenkill Shiner, Golden Darter, and Trout Perch. In 1953, Oatman honored his friendship with Al Prindle with a new streamer fly pattern called the "Shushan Postmaster," and an article of the same name was published in Esquire magazine in March 1956.
Al Prindle was also immortalized by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), the painter/illustrator famous for the Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations of everyday life scenarios that he created for more than four decades.
Rockwell lived upriver in Arlington, Vermont, from 1939 to 1953, and encouraged other successful artists to follow him there. For a time, a little bevy of artists lived along the Battenkill, including: Mead Schaeffer (1898-1980), credited with 46 covers for the Saturday Evening Post and called by his editors, "a fisherman who also happened to paint," and John Atherton (1900-1952), a world-renowned artist/illustrator and one of the great American fly fishermen of the 20th century, who wrote and illustrated the fishing classic, The Fly and The Fish (1952).
Not a fisherman, Rockwell would hire local folks to be his models, photographing and then painting them into his pieces. Shushan Postmaster Al Prindle was among his subjects, often paired with another Shushan resident, Alva Roberson--famously depicted in the series, "Four Seasons" that is often reproduced on calendars. Al Prindle was also the subject Rockwell's painting, "Fishing Lesson," also called "Catching the Big One," that was featured as The Saturday Evening Post cover on August 3, 1929.
Unfortunately, the people behind this story are long gone, but in my search I did meet Herbert Eriksson (b. 1925), a link to them all. As a young man, Eriksson moved from Shushan to New York City to learn architectural drawing and estimating. He also picked up photography, taking photos of bank interiors and conference rooms for contractors to use for advertising purposes.
Back in Shushan on the weekends in the 1950s, Eriksson photographed friends, including Lew Oatman and Al Prindle. Some were used in Oatman's 1956 Esquire article, showing the Shushan postmaster casting in midstream, walking into the hamlet, and fishing by the covered bridge. There is also a picture of a fine catch of trout and of Prindle and Oatman at home comparing notes.
Eriksson retired to Shushan in 1988. He made the shift to digital photography and computer printing, laughing as he observed, "I had to put a window in my darkroom." Now in his 90s, he graciously provided these and many more photographs of Lew Oatman, Al Prindle, and the Shushan Postmaster for the exhibition "Battenkill Inspired."
Voices Acquisitions Editor
Founding Director of the Folklfe Center at
Crandall Public Library
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|Title Annotation:||fishing fly|
|Publication:||Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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