Gloucester Daily Times August 1, 2016
Fishtown Local: The way the metal overlays the wood
by Gordon Baird
“Clang, clang, toink, toink, blatt!” came the whack of steel-on-steel, hammer to keel, muscle to skeg, sinew to boat.
Who else could it be, coming from dead center underneath a 19th century, classic Glosta vessel up on the ways of the Low Tide Yacht Basin deep in Smith Cove? One had to duck, passing around the prow of this magnificent black bow — don’t want to hit your head on the protruding anchor, hung along a perfect New England bowsprit and a slightly bent boat hook just waiting to get back to work.
But one has to pause to gaze longingly at this perfect Gloucester profile of wood, rope and metal that is the silhouette of Old Pung’s bow.
Resembling nothing more than the bow of a British man-o-war from centuries earlier — just in much smaller scale. A world beater, she be, if it be a smaller world we be a’beating.
A head emerges, then a face, as if anyone familiar with the wharves didn’t know the sounds and the quiet grunts could come from anyone other than Larry Dahlmer. To call him a master mariner would be too narrow a description. Master wood crafter, master adapter, master Gloucesterman. Whatever it takes to bend, adapt, reform, shape, hone, squeeze, design or join — they don’t exactly carry parts for boats like his in stores. He has to make them and sometimes make them up, invent them. Where else but Fishtown would you find a master Larry wriggling out from under an eight-ton repair job on a mini railway In July? “Just got my new keel done!” he smiles proudly, rewarding himself with several caresses of the beard. “On nice and straight this time! Last time I did it, I was 23 years old. That was a few years back. “ Probably won’t be his last, I betcha.
Diamonds in the rough. That’s what Gloucester is: diamonds in the rough. You live your life, you meet these people in and around that aren’t like people you meet other places. You meet a man like Larry out in the harbor, winter sailing his old classic around the harbor in the 80s, you get to thinkin’ you know him after a few decades. And he’s not the only one ...
But lately — the past 10 years — he has also revealed himself as a master painter. In fact, he spends far more time these days painting what he sees around him. Sometimes, he subtracts and takes the viewer back a century or so in the harbor scene. Looking more like the days when everyone did what Larry does when it’s time to install a new keel, they just did it. That was the business model then. That’s Larry’s business model now: just do it yourself. Quit complainin’ and get to work. I’d like to see him do a painting done from the bottom of the keel, looking up.
Where else but Gloucester would you find an art gallery like the Last Stop that sells Larry’s paintings while selling homemade food, soups, muffins, meals, happy advice, you name it. Keeps a steady stream of lookers in front of his art. He just hangs, having a perpetual mug-up with Sandy and Jean, who run the store. Sometimes he watches the register and makes change but even then, he’s imaging scenes from long ago on the water and thinking pensively about the sweetness and perfection of the way the metal of the keel overlays the wood. He’s living the life and painting the results.
Go on in to live the art with him when you pass through East Gloucester, right before Rocky Neck. Get a muffin and a cup of joe and join the conversation. Nobody is in a hurry in there, not even the boats plowing through the paintings. It takes as long as it does to get there on those old wind driven beauties. Go enjoy a piece of that old Gloucester. And when you’re there, ask Larry about that new keel. He’ll be beaming when you do ...
Jan. 29, 2016