Afloat with Photographer Nancy Rich

Jacqui Morton
Issue Date: 
May, 2019
Article Body: 

Natick resident Nancy Rich walked me through an exhibit of her photography at the Wellesley Library on one sunny Sunday at the end of March. There, her photographs had been greeting visitors for a month, an opportunity three years in the planning.
Printed on canvas, her photographs look like paintings. The exhibit travels through nearly a decade of images that Nancy has taken with various cameras. A prominent feature of her work and the subject of her book, Afloat on the Tide, published in 2009 by Sheridan House, is the wooden rowboat, long a staple of the New England landscape, now vanishing as wood is replaced by materials such as fiberglass, rubber, aluminum, and plastic.
Of the collection captured in Afloat on the Tide, Nancy says, “The images for Nor’eastern Dinghies were photographed along the north Atlantic coastline. While wooden rowboats are emblematic of the people and culture of the New England coastline - hard working, pragmatic, picturesque, and rugged - they have sadly all but been replaced by boats made of more durable, synthetic materials. The book serves as a historical record of the tradition, and once ubiquitous presence, of wooden rowboats along our shores.”
Her attraction to the wooden rowboat, and perhaps photography as an important creative outlet for Nancy herself, came while she was a school administrator visiting Maine for a photography workshop in 2000. Nancy jokes that she didn’t complete the assignments given to her and her friends. “I was just so drawn to these boats. When we went back the following year, I told my friends I would publish a book of these photographs.” She says that declaring it helped her see the project through. Her career as a school administrator took her to Massachusetts to the Dana Hall School, and she has since retired, allowing more time to devote to sharing her creative work with the public.
I am drawn to an image titled “Melon Boat,” which Nancy shares is one of her favorites. This picture taken from an adventurous perspective, over the water, captures a piece of a small boat with its reflection and a sunrise creating the perfect backdrop.
Nancy works a few days a month, as a member of the Clever Hand Gallery, a cooperative in Wellesley, where artist-members showcase their own work and share in the responsibility of running the shop. There, Nancy’s photographs are available as prints in frames and as notecards, and one can find her book as well. The Clever Hand has been in existence for over 45 years and in Wellesley for more than 25 years, creating an important community for local artists. Nancy has been a member since 2016 and is pleased to serve on committees as well as in the retail operation.
And Nancy’s work can be found well beyond the Metrowest area, too. Six of her wooden boat photographs are highlighted in the documentary film, Art & Soul: Maine Built Boats, which was created by Gary Jobson, sailing analyst for ESPN. The film premiered in November of 2008 in Rockland, Maine. Her exhibit, aptly titled AFLOAT, will will be showing at Natick Town Hall during May and June and again in October, at the Marion Art Center, and includes the collection, Nor’eastern Dinghies, along with the collections, Sea Sculptures and Glass, Liquid, and Ice Capades.
Sea Sculptures features the beauty often casted away by nature such as seaweed gripped around a mussel’s shell, a lone lobster skin, and a perfectly intact sea urchin. For compositions that highlight the stunning purity of these items, Rich uses a light box, black velvet and plexiglass, and shoots images with her trusty Canon, 2 to 3 inches from her subject. It was a pleasure to get to talk with Nancy about her work as I saw it. “Macro photography offers me great latitude to be creative and develop unique, oftentimes abstract images that draw the attention of the eye and mind.”
Glass, Liquid, and Ice Capades plays further with macro photography, up close images of things like beads and flower petals that have landed on the other side of glass in a thick liquid such as dish soap. Of these, Nancy says, “The bubbles inherent in my compositions add dimension and motion to the image. Depending on the density of the liquid and the movement of the surrounding objects, bubbles move very slowly, or they form instantly and rush to the surface. With luck, they perfectly position themselves in an image and serve as tiny mirrors playfully reflecting the colors of whatever is floating around them.”
In my time walking through the AFLOAT exhibit I felt momentarily transported to the coast and perhaps beyond. Nancy Rich’s photography is best viewed in person, but can be can sampled on her website: In addition to being available at the Clever Hand Gallery, her book Afloat on the Tide can be found in many libraries in Massachusetts as well as on Amazon.