Statue of captain honors watermen's way of life Unveiling celebrated in Rock Hall harbor

October 08, 1995|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,SUN STAFF

ROCK HALL -- One man's solemn tribute to a declining way of life was unveiled yesterday in this small Eastern Shore town.

A 16-foot-high statue of Capt. Stanley Vansant, who spent most of his 81 years as a waterman and master boat builder, will stand at water's side in Rock Hall harbor as a reminder of days gone by, but it won't be the only reminder.

Hundreds of the 3,000 work- and head-boats he built still work Chesapeake Bay and its quiet coves and harbors.

"If this were Japan, Captain Vansant would be a national treasure," said sculptor Kenneth Herlihy, creator of the bronze statue, which shows the captain tonging for oysters.

But because this is America, his memory was celebrated in traditional small-town-America fashion -- speeches, a colorful American Legion honor guard, march music by the Rock Hall Community Band, and old Delta blues and American folk songs by the Banjo Man and Bill band. Hundreds of townspeople ate oyster sandwiches and crab cakes, and weekend sailors partied and watched the festivities from dockside.

The statue was a work of deep emotion for Mr. Herlihy, who wants it to stand for all watermen.

"It needed to be done, to memorialize men like Stanley," he said. Mr. Herlihy, 66, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, lives in Philadelphia, where he managed a $1.8 billion mutual fund until his retirement eight years ago.

He had sculpted as an avocation for years, but now does it full time. He and his wife, Patricia, a prize-winning artist, have a second home in Georgetown, about 20 miles north of Rock Hall.

The $20,000 statue was financed by a small grant from the Rock Hall Arts Council and by Mr. Herlihy. He has made nine smaller versions of the statue for private sales, he said.

Pearl Vansant, Captain Vansant's wife of 62 years before his death five years ago, said her husband had no formal training in boat building and never worked from a blueprint.

"People would come to him with blueprints, but he would just listen to what they had to say, put the blueprints on a shelf, and go to work," said Mrs. Vansant, 83.

Mr. Herlihy decided several years ago that he wanted to do a sculpture honoring watermen, and was directed to Mr. Vansant by the Kent County Waterman's Association.

"I saw many years ago what was happening to the watermen, their life and their livelihood, that it was in decline," he said.

"Captain Vansant was a wonderful man, the perfect model, kind and patient, and very understanding of what I was trying to do," Mr. Herlihy said.

Ron Fithian, a Kent County commissioner who was master of ceremonies for the unveiling by Mrs. Vansant, still makes his living as a waterman.

"You can still do it, but it's not like it used to be," he said.

Bob Woollens drove from Dover, Del., to sell antique oyster cans at prices up to $225, and model boats. He said the waterman's traditional life is fading because too many people are chasing too few fish.

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