On Friday, Nov. 5 the Crisfield Seafood Workers Mural was dedicated in front of an audience of state, local officials and community members. It’s a larger-than-life way to honor those who moved the town’s seafood industry forward. And you may recognize the work from the artist who created it: the man behind the arresting mural of Harriet Tubman with her arm outstretched in Cambridge.
The mural was seen as a way to both honor the workers and to increase tourism to the Somerset County town. Because visitors come to Crisfield for crabs, a crab pickers’ mural seemed like the logical choice. With input from the community the original idea evolved into the creation of a seafood workers mural inclusive of everyone who worked on the water or in related industries.
When its original location was destroyed by winds from the remnants of Hurricane Isaias in 2020, the mural found a new home on 413 Main Street. According to Jennifer Merritt, Crisfield Arts and Entertainment District Coordinator, the Greater Crisfield Action Coalition and the Crisfield Arts and Entertainment worked together to secure funds for the mural’s creation. Town Councilman Eric Banks and Darlene Taylor of the Coalition served as project leaders. “She’s inspirational,” Merritt says of Taylor. “It would not have happened without her.”
Both Councilman Banks and Taylor have first hand knowledge of what it’s like to work in the seafood industry. Both were crab pickers in their youth—Taylor from the age of 9 until she left home for college. (Children worked at a special table at the entrance picking claws until they were old enough to go inside). Taylor’s mother spent her entire working life in the industry and her father cooked crabs for as long as she can remember.
For this representation of seafood workers, there would be no images of drudgery, Taylor insisted. “It was hard work, but there was also joy,” she says. She recalls the 9 a.m. daily prayer time and gospel songs sung throughout the day. Older workers looked out for their younger co-workers, forming bonds as “play” mothers and daughters. Workers helped each other make their daily quota.
“It was the village that raised me,” she recalls. One of members of the village was Mrs. Hazel Cropper. Rightfully known as Hurricane Hazel, she’s a 16-time Crab Picking Champion at Crisfield’s annual Hard Crab Derby. At the mural’s unveiling, 83-year-old Cropper stood smiling under her image.
Of artist Michael Rosato, Taylor says she’s always been drawn to his work, especially the Pine Street and Harriet Tubman Take My Hand murals, both in Cambridge. She had no idea he would be the artist commissioned to bring their vision to life. “Jennifer Merritt made the connection,” she recalls. “His work on the mural was phenomenal. He really captured the souls of the people. He has a gift.”
Rosato believes his work resonates with people because it reflects his love for the culture and people of the place he’s called home for 20 years. It’s also in the stories he tells through his art. He doesn’t just paint, he researches the stories, cultures and communities of his subjects. Most heartwarming is the reaction of children who see themselves and their stories reflected in his work. “It’s an American story,” he says simply. He believes there’s no one who can’t identify with something in these murals. “It’s the true power of public art to tell the story of people, something we may not know about each other. Art has the ability to change minds, open doors and hearts.”
You can read more about the Crisfield Arts and Entertainment District and the Seafood Mural here.