Since 2013, plein air artists from the Peninsula Art League have been making paintings and photographs of Gig Harbor’s iconic netsheds.
More than 70 of their paintings are currently on display at Harbor History Museum through Jan. 17. Also included are photos and historical information about the netsheds and artifacts from the harbor’s fishing industry.
In the spring of 2013, artists in PAL’s weekly plein air painting group were enjoying a paint-out near the mouth of the harbor. Many of them were painting the view of a nearby netshed.
“We were surprised by the number of folks who stopped to watch us and ask questions about the netsheds,” Anne Knapp, who coordinated the plein air group, said in a release. “They wanted to know who owned them, why they were built and what were the used for — all kinds of questions that we didn’t know the answers to.”
The artists challenged themselves to paint as many of the netsheds as possible, with the goal of presenting an exhibit of their work.
The small, over-the-water wooden sheds were built by Gig Harbor fishermen, starting as far back as 1910, to store and repair their nets and gear. Next to the fishing boats themselves, the netsheds represent the most important architectural byproduct of the harbor’s commercial fishing industry, which began with the first Croatian immigrants who arrived around 1900.
The sheds were used for work and also served as gathering places for skippers, crews and their families.
At one time several dozen netsheds lined the bay, but as land values climb and property taxes increase, these simple architectural treasures are being demolished and replaced by condos and marinas. Today only 17 remain.
In 2014, the City of Gig Harbor hosted a show of the netshed paintings at the civic center. It was well-attended, but many people with day jobs complained that they missed it because of the limited hours the center was open.
Since then the artists have searched for another venue for the netshed show — and kept on painting.
Early this year, the staff at the museum agreed to host a reprise of the exhibit and also dug into their archives to find artifacts and information about the sheds. The result is a pairing of art and artifacts that pays tribute to the iconic structures and the culture they represent.
“What better way to memorialize these beloved structures,” said Knapp, “than through the eyes of an artist?”
The show is on display through Jan. 17. For information, call the museum at 253-858-6722.