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Beyond the Frame: Connection

The yellow ochre of the pilothouse stands out on the near grayscale palette of this small canvas. Muted colors begin to become more apparent, like those of a faded, old photograph. And like a photograph, this work is a memory – a snapshot of everyday life.

Contemplating Connection

In looking at this work, the concept of connection comes to mind over and over. I thought about what connection means to me and my mind immediately went to technology – WiFi, cell service, texts, and email. While there are the cons of a constantly connected world – like endless promotional emails, it also means being able to call my family hundreds of miles away or FaceTime friends in another country. This drove me deeper down the road of connection and what it means. But at its very simplest, to me, connection is about bringing people together and this painting is about just that.

“Oregon Inlet Ferry” by Wayne Fulcher, Oil on Canvas, 1970. | The Mariners’ Museum and Park

Toby Tillet’s Ferries

This is Captain J.B. “Toby” Tillett’s Oregon Inlet Ferry, Barcelona. This ferry was a connection point, not only physically in terms of transportation on North Carolina’s Outer Banks from Roanoke Island to Hatteras Island and beyond, but also in terms of people being able to come into contact with one another and build a sense of community.

“The BARCELONA”, Inscription: “Ferry at Oregon Inlet, NC. Capt. Toby Tillet, Oct. 2 -34.” Courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina. 33GRF-125-142

Toby Tillett’s ferries became essential to the families that lived on the string of barrier islands that stretched out into the Atlantic. These communities depended on Tillett and the Oregon Inlet Ferry for 25 years to connect them with the mainland whether this meant getting necessities like mail and groceries, or later, tourists who sought out the beautiful islands for fishing and leisure.

And on this hazy gray day the iconic ferry is shown from the vantage point of the shore, loaded up with cars and passengers.

The Artist from the Outer Banks

“Dad” by Aaron Fulcher. 2016, Digital Painting. Courtesy of Aaron Fulcher

The artist, Wayne Fulcher was born and raised on the Outer Banks, just about 40 miles south of Oregon Inlet and probably rode on Barcelona when he was young. According to Aaron Fulcher, son of the artist and an artist himself, his father was particularly drawn to scenes of “old Hatteras” because that was his heritage – his own personal history.

It’s likely that the artist painted this work from a photograph of the ferry, but he no doubt knew its importance, the importance of connection. And through this painting, Fulcher has given us the opportunity to connect – with him, with his community – via this ferry.

Studio shot of “Oregon Inlet Ferry” by Wayne Fulcher, Oil on Canvas, 1970. | The Mariners’ Museum and Park 1973.0033.000001

We stand at the shore as the loading ramp is lowered, waiting for our turn to board. When we do, Captain Toby would greet us with a smile.

“Skipper Toby Tillet”, Courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina. Alan Eldridge Collection, LS 576

He was remembered as a friend to all. Always willing to lend a hand – welcoming, ferrying, and connecting people to the Outer Banks. Fulcher has invited us to experience this with him. To share a memory as friends, families, locals, and visitors have done through the years.

“Scottie, Helen, Edris”, Courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina. 33GRF-78-3-19, Alan Eldridge Collection, LS 581

Essential Infrastructure

It can be easy to take connection for granted especially in terms of infrastructure, but this work celebrates the essential, deeper bond that is found in connecting people to people – something that Tillet did for 25 years and that ferry industries everywhere do daily.

Through his muted color scheme, like that of an old photograph, Fulcher has created a feeling of nostalgia. One that is shared, too, by some today who can still remember boarding Barcelona as children, eagerly headed for the Outer Banks, or the local children whose families relied on Tillett and his ferries as an essential part of their lives. This work also celebrates the legacy of that same captain whose demeanor welcomed folks from just down the road or from far away to come and connect. His ferry fostered connections that strengthened families and communities and paved the way for even greater connection in the future.

Studio shot of “Oregon Inlet Ferry” by Wayne Fulcher, Oil on Canvas, 1970. | The Mariners’ Museum and Park. 1973.0033.000001

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