Through the Eyes of a Waterman

The Art of William E. Cummings

Times were simpler then, when Bill Cummings was growing up on Tilghman’s Island.

The roads were bedded with oyster shells and dozens of working boats made the island their home.

Smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay along Maryland’s eastern shore,

the island was ideally suited for the then-thriving seafood industry.

For those who stayed ashore, Tilghman Packing Company provided jobs vital to the community.

Families like his depended on the bounty of the bay to make their living. “My father. .. was a waterman, as was his family before him.

He wasn’t an educated man-could hardly write his namebut he was so intelligent.”

Bill spent his teenage years working on board Old Ben, his father’s boat. “I learned how to oyster when I was about twelve years old. In the summer months, we’d go seine hauling.

Now, that was hard work, but I loved it! Lots of my paintings tell stories of the seine haulers.” Growing up,

young Bill once proclaimed to his parents that school was not for him-he wanted to work on the water.

“Okay then,” his father told him, “Go pack up your lunch. We’re going fishing,” and off they went.

It was a particularly cold one that day and temperatures seemed to drop by the hour.

It was not long before Bill laid his oyster rakes down and announced that he was heading to the cabin to get warm. “No, you’re not,” his father replied emphatically.

“If you’re gonna work on the water, you’re staying out here. There’s no money to be made hiding below.” The disillusioned young fisherman quickly responded, “If you’ll take me home, I’ll go to school! “

Lesson learned. Bill was the first Currumings to graduate from high school.

His passion Jfor drawing began as a child. “In the evenings I’d sit with a little notepad and draw whatever came to mind-just play with it-people in different positions, moving them around, sometimes trying to put a picture together. I always had a pencil in my hand.”

It was not until adulthood that he would use his artistic talents as a means to preserve a piece of history.

At eighteen, he enlisted in the US Navy but was discharged a year later because his help was needed at home.

The tables had turned, and now Bill was caring for his disabled father, who had lost both of his legs to diabetes.

The senior Cummings would not be dissuaded by his physical limitations, and his yearning to get back on the water was as strong as ever.

With a waterman’s determination, son Bill found a way to make that happen.

“In the morning I would take Dad out of the house in his wheelchair, hoist him up into the front seat of the truck, put the wheelchair in the back of the truck,

unload the chair, get him back into it, wheel him down to the boat and then hoist him, wheelchair and all, on board!” Bill would haul in the oysters and his father would cull them.

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