The 'Headers In Life & Legend
by Russell W. Knight

Poppy Stevens, Artist

Years before the streets of the town became clogged with automobiles, rubberneck buses and gawking tourists, picturesque Barnegat was a painter's paradise. Each summer, a veritable horde of budding artists laden with easels, folding chairs, stools, palettes and paints gathered on its time-ravaged beach. By and large, they were a modest lot, striving hard to capture on canvas the quaintness and charm emanating from weathered shanties, abandoned gear, foul smelling bait barrels and potbellied trawl tubs.

At day's end, some departed, satisfied with the work they had produced. Others, whose efforts had fallen far short of their expectations, simply left, their hopes deferred. But a few, callow and ungifted, either destroyed their poorly executed canvases or cast them to the winds.

Early one summer morning, Poppy Stevens found one such daub in his beached punt. After wiping it clean of sand, he smoothed the wrinkled canvas and tacked it to the wall of the fishermen's jerry-built lean-to. There, this garishly painted seascape remained until an art-conscious sightseer chanced to see it.

"My, my! What a delightful primitive," she murmured, noting its vivid colors, textures, tone and treatment.

"Sir," she said, addressing the bench's sole occupant, a portly, sweater-clad barnacleback. "Can you tell me anything about this charming composition?" Poppy hesitated momentarily, then somewhat casually said, "Yes ma'am, I sure can. It's mine."

"Gracious me! Why it's simply lovely," she said. "What, with those islands in the distance ... and the boats ... and the feel and flavor of the sea ... it must do your heart good to have such a hobby."

"Yes ma'am, it sure does," Poppy replied, "but as you can see ... I still got lots to learn. My colors are too strong ... and my perspective is way off ... a bit warped you might say. Still and all I keep working at it 'cause I like to paint what I see and feel."

With that, Poppy hove to his feet and said, "If you don't mind ma'am ... I gotta be goin' ... what with the air so clear and dry and the light the way it is ... I'm hopin' to paint for an hour or two before supper ... so iffin you'll excuse me ..."

Ten minutes later, Poppy was standing, brush in hand, on the shore of a nearby beach. Facing him amid a clutter of slime-covered flotsam, torn and tattered fish nets and the shattered frame of a derelict ship's cradle, was the sun-bleached hull of a beaten and battered seine boat.

Slowly and methodically, brushstroke by brushstroke, Poppy painted and daubed, anxious to take advantage of the waning light of day. By sunset, he had completed his finest work. This man, Barnegat's most gifted and shameless prevaricator, had painted the bottom of his seiner ... with Yankee enamel ... BLACK TAR!

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