WEST OCEAN CITY — During his 12 years as a commercial fisherman, Timothy Trout has seen an astounding variety of items in his nets. But as fewer of those items were fish, Trout began looking for a different way to earn a living.
As it turned out, the answer to his new calling has been residing at the bottom of the ocean for more than 60 years.
There are two ways to look at the dregs hauled up from the bottom when they aren’t fish. The first way is to bemoan the pollution, wastefulness of previous generations, or carelessness. The second way is to transform those found objects into new products around which a cottage industry could be built. Trout chose the second.
Inspiration strikes as it pleases, and in Trout’s case in struck when a friend decided he wanted an ashtray. The number of brass shell casings from Navy ships that can be found at the bottom of the ocean is staggering. So much so that they are commonplace retrievals from local fishing nets.
Although he was no stranger to the find, when a friend of his wanted to cut of the bottom to use as an ashtray, Trout volunteered to take the rest of the shell off his hands. The friend obliged.
The thing about brass is, unlike copper, it is virtually worthless as salvage. Brass is easy to get. And although there’s a certain novelty to a two-foot long shell, there’s not much of a market for those either.
However, if a person with the skill and vision were to take the shell, leave intact the patina the bottom of the sea provided and transform cuttings into jewelry, the garbage goes immediately from barely a novelty to astoundingly interesting and in come cases beautiful art.
And so that is what Trout now does for a living.
It is only in the most technical sense that what Trout makes is jewelry. His creations are wearable, flattering and pretty but what makes them art is that his creations aren’t sole the product of his imagination.
In every kind of art there is a sort of marriage between what the artist wants and what the medium is willing to provide. In the best art, the composer is open to this relationship and willing to do what, for lack of a better way of putting it, the composition wants to have done.
Trout works in precisely this manner. There are pieces he makes either for commission or because he’s become adept at making them, but there are many more that come into being on their own at his suggestion.
Among the best pieces remaining from the former category are the bunches of roses and the seashell earrings he produces regularly. The roses are made from Naval shell remnants and require a certain and predictable construction practice Trout has honed. Similarly, the seashells, while not simple to produce, come together in a predictable way.
But in sculpture as much as in any other of the arts, forcing one’s will upon an inanimate object can result in a ruined piece. Some sculptors accept this as part of the aesthetic constraint under which they must work and go with very loose plans or sometimes no real plan at all.
For Trout, the best solution has been to begin with a plan and let inspiration take over if the medium forces him to improvise. The best way to describe his process is to say he begins more with a direction than a strict plan. But as anyone who has ever taken a leisurely drive to nowhere can tell you, picking a direction and seeing where it goes is generally the best approach.
Among the marriages of suggestion of form and final product are the sea turtle sculptures Trout makes from discarded bulkhead toppers. When they are properly pulled from their perches, they already suggest sea turtles, so the finished product has more to do with facilitating than with imposing form on the formless.
While working from found metals has given Trout’s art a particular niche quality, he doesn’t restrict his work to things he’s found or been given. He often produces, both for commission and as a result of inspiration, wall art sculpted from copper sheers and jewelry hammered from copper, sterling silver or both.
Among his finest production pieces art the braided bracelets he makes from two lengths of copper and one of sterling silver. Before he was removed from his Old Bridge Road studio in deference to the panic over Hurricane Irene, he’d just completed a hurricane bracelet from woven copper. The “stone” of the bracelet is a sterling silver piece bent into the shape of the hurricane. Whether it is an ironic, hyper-nostalgic, or premonitory statement isn’t any more for him to decide than was the piece’s creation.
Trout will be the Treasure Chest’s featured artist at this week’s 2nd Friday Art Stroll event. His work can also be seen at Punk Rock Fish in West Ocean City and he is a regular participant in Art on the Docks in Ocean City.