Fish Tails

A Norwell artisan’s love for the sea makes a lasting impression

Written by Laura DeSisto  Photography by Jack Foley

When recounting that one time they went fishing and reeled in a “big one,” people are often accused of exaggerating the size of their catch.  South Shore residents who want to prove that their fish stories are true need look no further than artisan Jenna Reedy of Norwell.

For the past eight years, Reedy has been immortalizing fish and other sea creatures through the Japanese art of gyotaku, a method of printing that dates back to the mid-1800s.  Gyotaku loosely translates to “fish rubbing,” a practice in which the fish act as printing plates.  Japanese fishermen once employed the technique to record their catches and legend has it that Samurai used it to settle their fishing competitions.  

While early practitioners strictly utilized sumi ink and washi paper to make their prints, gyotaku has since become an art form all of its own and artisans like Reedy have begun innovating with many different types of materials and methods.

“The basics of the technique remain consistent. Each piece starts with applying paint to a fish. The artist then rubs a cloth or paper over the fish to create a direct print,” says Reedy. “But in every new series I experiment with colors, paper, textiles, mediums and framing. My style is the gray area between abstract and real.”

Reedy works out of a basement studio in her Norwell home where clients can meet her by appointment.

“About 60 percent of my business is custom orders,” says Reedy.  “Lots of people bring me tuna tails in the fall. Since it usually takes a group of people to reel in such a big fish, they often ask for multiple prints of the tail - one for each of the fishermen.”

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From June through October, Reedy receives lots of orders for prints of stripers—often large ones weighing as much as 40 pounds.

“I try to give the fish back right away so that it can be fileted and eaten,” says Reedy. “If not, I place it in a large freezer chest in my garage. If the clients don’t want the fish back, I will give it to my brother who is a commercial lobsterman and he will use it as bait in his traps. Nothing goes to waste.”

Reedy’s respect for the environment extends to other areas of her process as well. “For customers who prefer a rustic look, my husband, Seamus, helps me by repurposing old wood to make frames,” says Reedy.  “And I will often use recycled textiles.”

A few years ago, Reedy began displaying and selling her prints at Quench Juicery in Scituate Harbor and this past summer at B. Home, a fine furniture consignment store on St. George Street in Duxbury. The owner of B Home, Bonnie Bongiolatti of Marshfield, says that Reedy’s prints have been one of her best selling items since opening her store last June. 

Norwell Artist Jenna Reedy Fish Prints

"I try to give the fish back right away so that it can be fileted and eaten."

 — Jenna Reedy

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“People really love the idea of owning a one-of-a-kind piece,” says Bongiolatti.  

In addition to framed art pieces, Reedy creates prints of sea life on fabric to make pillows and canvas bags and she is currently in the midst of creating a collection of makeup bags and SPF swim shirts. “There are endless applications for this process,” says Reedy. “It’s one of the many things I love about it.” 

Reedy enjoys sharing her passion for gyotaku by giving small-group, hands-on workshops in which participants learn the process and go home with several prints. “The great thing is, this is something you can do successfully even if you have zero artistic ability,” she says.

Over the years, Reedy has had the pleasure of hearing many real-life fish tales and is honored to be able to help preserve their memories in a piece of beautiful art.

“Last summer, there was a 17-year-old boy caught a 650-pound tuna, which took 5 hours to reel in,” says Reedy, “and a great white shark was found tangled in a commercial fishing net off Hull. I made prints of both of those fish tails.  I love that my art can be about remembering the experience of reeling in a big catch, the smell of salt water or just being connected to nature. The prints can spark a whole new meaning or memory for each and every person.”

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For more information,
visit Instagram @printsbyjenna or Facebook @FishPrintsByJenna, or by emailing jennareedymac@gmail.com.

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