Alabama is historically the largest processor of oysters in the country.
In other words, around here, we take our Gulf oysters very seriously. So much so, in fact, that we pay tribute to them through local art.
The Oyster Trail is a unique, year-round art exhibit that stretches throughout Coastal Alabama. This collection of large fiberglass oyster sculptures – each bearing beautiful paintings from local artists as well as “fact plaques” with information about the oyster’s ecological and economic benefits – is scattered throughout Mobile Bay’s streets, parks, restaurant storefronts, lobbies, and more.
Established by the Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program, The Oyster Trail was thought up in an effort to continue restoration work on oyster reefs in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound, with all proceeds from the Trail going towards this project.
That’s why the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission (ASMC) decided to step up and sponsor a pair of oysters on behalf of the Alabama Gulf Seafood brand.
Chris Blankenship, director of Alabama Marine Resources and program director for the ASMC, worked closely with PJ Waters of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, to commission a pair of artists in the Mobile Bay area to paint the oyster sculptures as a tribute to the oystermen of Alabama’s seafood industry.
“The Alabama Marine Resources Division is responsible for managing the oyster resources in Alabama so I thought it was only fitting for there to be stops on the Oyster Trail at MRD offices, “ said Blankenship. “On the oysters we commissioned I wanted to highlight the hard working men and women in this industry. Oysters are still harvested the same way they were harvested in the 1800’s. It takes hard work from the oystermen to get this delicacy from the waters to your plate.”
“I was completely caught off guard,” said Margie Delcambre, a long-time Dauphin Island resident. “It was beyond my wildest dreams to have ever been selected to do such a project. It brought back memories of opening oysters with my father.”
Margie’s piece, entitled “Bountiful Harvest,” illustrates a group of men tonging for Alabama oysters near Dauphin Island on one side and a map of the island in relation to the oyster reefs on the other side.
The men painted by Delcambre were inspired by photographs of a pair of real Alabama oystermen named James Mallon and Nolan Ladnier.
“They worked hard, but they enjoyed what they did,” said Delcambre. “You could tell by the smiles on their faces when they would come to the docks and unload their catch.”
Rick Tino, a Gulf Shores native with 40 years of painting experience, took a similar approach to his sculpture, entitled “Oyster Farming.”
“The Marine Resources Division gave me the task of painting two images,” said Tino. “One was to show harvesting oysters with rakes, and the other the aqua farming technique.”
While both artists have been painting for multiple decades, it was the first time either had done a piece that involved Alabama’s seafood industry.
But if this project is any indication, it won’t be the last.
“Being an oyster lover myself, it was a marvelous and educational opportunity to promote a great local industry and paint for a good cause,” said Tino. “It was an illuminating experience.”
These brand new oyster sculptures will be unveiled on May 6 at the Dauphin Island Art Center behind Town Hall. The event is free and open to the public, and a reception featuring fresh Gulf oysters will follow the unveiling.
After being unveiled this week, “Bountiful Harvest” and “Oyster Farming” will be located at the Marine Resources’ offices in both Dauphin Island and Gulf Shores.
The Oyster Trail is a great way to learn about and pay tribute to one of Coastal Alabama’s most valuable resources. Check out this map of the trail, and be sure to check out these oyster sculptures when you’re out and about in the Mobile Bay area!