CAMBRIDGE — Visitors can get a quick glimpse of a massive mural as they reach the eastern end of the Frederick C. Malkus bridge. Resident and visitor alike will find a deeper appreciation by driving around to the Visitors’ Center. There in the back, under the sail, is Michael Rosato’s incredible painting, that he calls, “Ode to the Watermen.” It is an homage to the hardworking watermen who bring in the Maryland oysters and blue crabs famous around the country.
Mr. Rosato’s other murals are already in place in museums, baseball stadiums, and town squares in many areas, but the riverfront of Cambridge is a special place to honor the watermen. Johnny Shockley of the local watermen’s community viewed the mural and sees in the concentration on the faces and straining of the muscles “the resolve and fortitude of the men who start their workday at five a.m. and finish when the work is done.” The painting shows the catch of oysters, an integral part of the county’s history, all larger than life.
The mural is a melding of the area’s heritage, which James Michener painted in words in the best-seller Chesapeake, while Michael Rosato, the muralist, captures beauty and heritage with acrylic paint that will resist the weather. A scene in Chesapeake is Rosato’s choice for a mural at Clayton’s, in the Cambridge harbor. Michener’s heron, eating a soft crab, is fittingly painted at the oldest crab house in the country. Nearby, on the caboose on Maryland Avenue’s old railroad station, is the goose that fed the Native Americans and the settlers when huge flocks of geese darkened the skies.
This past Sunday morning, when it was windy and cold by the river, Mr. Rosato and his helper Tim Raickle installed the huge panels that came together like an enormous jigsaw puzzle. Michael explained that he and his wife, Heather, have lived in New York and Washington, D.C. but they wanted to be near the natural beauty of Dorchester County’s waterways, and the abundant wildlife at Blackwater. The birds, the people, the creeks and shoals that surround him, end up on his canvases, though his working studio is downtown on Race Street.
Waterman Johnny Shockley liked the mural very much, and shared a waterman’s perspective on the art work. “The mural is the essence of our life. It’s a long time coming for Dorchester County to recognize the impact the seafood industry had on the the region’s development. The watermen are a special breed, beginning to slip away. We need the community’s recognition and support.”
The heron, the goose and the watermen, the three Rosato murals in Cambridge, do not exist in isolation. They are Cambridge’s part of the Michener Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway. Many of us don’t even know it exists. Amanda Fenstermaker of Dorchester County Tourism explained that the project to interpret Michener’s Chesapeake is funded by both highway and historic funds from Maryland and the federal government. It highlights the scenic vistas of Talbot, Dorchester, and Caroline counties, reflecting something of place. In Vienna and East New Market, the murals reflect a different aspect of their history. Native Americans, colonial settlers, and farm life tell of the heritage of those areas.
Centreville, Oxford, Denton and Federalsburg are also on the Michener Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway, a road tailored for pedestrians, bicycles, and cars. The internet or the Visitors Center in Cambridge can provide you with directions for a leisurely history and art appreciation day. Soon it will be spring, perfect time to be a tourist on the byway, savoring our local heritage. Michael Rosato has provided you with the big picture; the really big picture.