“If the bucket, pole and tackle box were by the kitchen door at breakfast, it was my mother’s way of saying ‘Come back with something in the bucket, or it’s pancakes and bacon for dinner.’ Since then, I have fished a couple of oceans, the Eastern and Western Caribbean, American and British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas,” John “Doc” Fabiano says.
For Fabiano growing up in Long Island, fishing was sustenance. “When I was a kid in Sag Harbor you couldn’t swim without all these fish being around you. All those years, we’d fish for them. They were very plentiful. And, very delicious,” Fabiano says.
Fabiano is referring to the Long Island Puffer Fish or blowfish. For many decades, they became a rarity from overfishing and loss of food sources. Fabiano remembers the commercial fisherman returning to dock with bushels of the blowfish. They would throw the fish away, thinking they were poisonious. “We knew they weren’t. So as kids we would hang out by the docks, and when they came in we’d ask if we could have them. Mom would be really happy,” Fabiano says.
“I don’t think you can argue against the fact that we have been rather poor tenants of the planet. The blowfish is making a comeback, but it’s always stuck in my mind. Why catch all these fish if you’re not going to eat them?” Fabiano says. Sustainability is what drives Fabiano as an artist, and a fisherman.
John Fabiano begins working on a Hogfish.
In 2006, Fabiano, certified in Exceptional Student Education, was a substitute teacher at Englewood High School teaching art to autistic students. Many on the autistic spectrum have challenges with sensory stimuluation, especially touch. Fabiano came up with a lesson plan that would get the students to experiment with texture. “I took a couple of Whiting fish out of the freezer, bought bamboo paper, ink, and a brush and I taught them how to do Gyotaku, a Japanese method of fish printing,” Fabiano says. The students learned how to use their hands to apply even pressure. Fabiano enjoyed it so much, he started doing it himself at home. “It brought me closer to the animal, closer to the oceans.”
Soon Fabiano wanted to step it up a notch and began sculpting fish from pine. He shapes it by carving and does the detail work with a wood pen. He uses various staining techniques, using brushes, cloth and a variety of concentrations to create the effect. He also leverages the original grain of the wood. For example, using the knots in the pine to “spot” the flounder.
“I want to relate the animal into something else that’s organic,” Fabiano says. One of his Kingfish pieces was used as a top prize for the Southern Kingfish Association Rodeo last year.
“I use pine because I want my pricing to reasonable, because if there is a guy fishing with a cane pole on Heckscher Drive, I want him to be able to afford my work. If I use exotic woods the pricing would change.” Fabiano says. “I pursue my work, my creations, so all can appreciate and afford them. Fishing is the best level playing field I know of when it comes to skill, thrill and just plain enjoyment. And, there is nothing more satisfying than being on the water.”
Visit Doc’s Island at woodenfishcarvings.com
Fabiano creates a variety of water creatures out of wood in his Arlington workshop.