Moving Art

Tuesday, April 27, 1999, Annapolis, Maryland - Cindy Fletcher's artwork is very moving. It usually moves at about 7 knots, actually, because she is a letter painter who specializes in boats. She is a beautiful rarity, in this computerized, vinyl-letter, peel and stick world.

"Some people really do appreciate when things are done by hand on their boat," says the thirty-something artist, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree from Maryland Institute of the Arts. Hand work is especially appreciated around Annapolis, a major sailboat racing area, where people sometimes spend hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars on boats that are made by hand.

Of all the parts on a boat, the nameplate is possibly closest to a boat owner's heart. "I'm like the icing on the cake for new boat builders," says Fletcher. "Because they just poured tons of money into things they can't even see, and by the time I come along, they finally realize that their boat is built, because their name's on it."

A holdover vocation from an early nineteen-eighties, money-strapped excursion to the Carolinas, boat lettering is a bill-paying job for Fletcher until her art career takes off. "My ultimate goal is to have a dealer in New York City," she says. "Not necessarily fame and fortune, but a nice, happy dealer." She is about to have one of her paintings in a group show in that city.

Fletcher doesn't mind her interim career. "I'd rather be outside any day than behind a desk," she says. She is proud of the heritage any artist leaves, such as that of her grandfather, who she says was an artist for the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., where she will visit occasionally, to see his work. "I also love the pressure - there's always pressure - that's why I put 'Emergency Sign Painting' on my car." Fletcher has a good sense of humor and enjoys sharing it. "The best part of this job is meeting all the people," she says. "I've had every extreme; from the dirt poor, to the really, really rich."

What are her favorite boat names? She painted "Dun Diggin'" on an excavator's boat, "Tug-ether" on a tug boat, and "Tenacity." on the boat on which she and her sail maker husband live. Serenity is one of the more popular names, she says, but her favorite was "Buddy," named by another (young) artist. "A 6 year-old boy drew the name with a crayon, and he drew a fish," she says. "The father gave it to me, and I replicated the drawing on the boat."

Usually Fletcher does her work on dry land, while a boat is being stored, repaired or built, but she does paint boats in the water, sometimes hanging over its gunnel and painting upside down. She paints interior murals for homes and schools, and has painted an ice-clearing Zamboni machine, an airplane (ala Varga) and even a few Harleys.

Working with highly-pigmented, sign maker's paint, Fletcher can usually finish her job with a single coat. Her most valuable tools are her brushes, the bristles of which are reputedly made from tails of Russian squirrels. "Half the battle is the brush," she says. Other tools she uses are narrow tape, for masking straight edges of letters, an old yardstick, a mahl stick, for steadying her brush-hand, and an eye for perfection. "I'm pretty proud of my right angles," she says. "You make a letter crooked in this business, and you're sunk." Fletcher has only misspelled one name in her career, a typo which her client had made.

It takes at least forty-five minutes to paint a boat sign, a job which she could do more quickly with vinyl lettering, but she fears losing her dream of becoming an artist. "I have intentionally not bought a computer," she says. "Because I do not want to lose the ability to paint." Cindy Fletcher may never buy a computer, and someday, she may not even paint any more boats, if she can just find an art dealer to find her, and if she can just get her beautiful art moving through that New York gallery.

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