Pam Cabañas has been living in Friendship for going on 20 years. She keeps a skiff in the harbor and her son Eli is a sternman on the F/V Miss Kristen. A longtime member of the town’s board of assessors, which she currently chairs, Cabañas is, in her words, “pretty much immersed” in this fishing village “in terms of inspiration, community involvement, and friends.”
Friendship Harbor and the nearby coastline provide subject matter for many of Cabañas’s remarkable charcoal drawings. In one ongoing series, she focuses on what she calls “storage units,” the trap floats that dot the harbor. “Sometimes traps and ropes just need to dry out,” she explains, “and the fishermen handily toss the gear on their float.”
One section of the harbor, where many trap floats are moored, Cabañas calls Monument Valley, “always changing and always a fascinating array of gear—from order to chaos.” She loves to wander among them in her skiff.
She builds up the drawing with conventional charcoal and then moves to a richer, darker, and very warm black
In the drawing Pushed Off, one of the floats sits, in the artist’s words, “precariously at the edge of the harbor, just shy of the day marker, looking like she’s at the edge of the known world, ready to drift out into Muscongus Bay.” Cabañas tries to give these “edifices” life and personality, “reflecting in the inanimate the character of their owners—a bit of anthropomorphizing, I suppose.”
The title refers to a lobster boat pushing off the float, its wake disturbing the serene reflections in the water. With a brilliant touch Cabañas renders the traps, which seem to be dissolving in the air. Their ghostly forms contrast with the swirling oil-slicked water. The whole image at once tilts and finds balance.
Cabañas drew the piece in her studio, working from reference photos taken on her rows around the harbor. She builds up the drawing with conventional charcoal and then moves to a richer, darker, and very warm black using compressed charcoal sticks.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1952, Cabañas grew up in Bayville, a fishing village on Long Island’s North Shore. She gained art skills at Alfred University, Tamarind Institute, and the University of New Mexico where she also earned an MA in art education.
After teaching around Santa Fe for a time, she returned to Long Island. She opened an antique store in Locust Valley and later launched Cabañas Decorative Arts, creating decorative finishes and murals for architects and interior designers in the metropolitan area.
On trips to the Midcoast to visit her mother-in-law and painting excursions to Monhegan, Cabañas made many friends and decided to pull up stakes and move to Friendship. She left behind “the pretense of Long Island life and family and business for the independent aesthetic life” she had always desired.
These days, when she isn’t drawing, Cabañas manages Salt Pond Studio in a pre-Civil War structure, originally the East Friendship Schoolhouse, which she purchased from the Stone-Scott-Watson VFW Post a few years ago and subsequently restored with her son’s help. She exhibits her own work and that of local artists. The gallery is another expression of her close ties to the Friendship community.
Carl Little’s latest book is Mary Alice Treworgy: A Maine Painter.