Jessica Straus: Stemming the Tide

June 22 - October 19, 2024

A segmented map stretching across the gallery floor and rising to the ceiling is the central feature of Jessica Straus’s immersive installation. Its scale dwarfs us. The distinctive New England shoreline is recognizable. This is the Gulf of Maine, with waters descending from Ktqmkuk, now called Newfoundland, to Patuxet, the crook of land stretching out to the sea that we know as Cape Cod. 

Paired with the map is a series of photographs, partially occluded by hand-knotted fishing nets. In each image, a piece of the map floats atop lapping ocean waters, sometimes with the artist and other times adrift. The mesmerizing images allow us to contemplate the seen and unseen currents of the ocean. 

Deftly carved fish—cod—are scattered across the map. They are painted a ghostly white. In 1602, when Bartholomew Gosnold sailed into the southern terminus of the Gulf of Maine, its waters teemed with giant cod. That iconic fish is no longer abundant or giant.

Woven together, the elements in Stemming the Tide provide a multifaceted and open-ended viewing experience. The totality of the encounter is both aesthetic and a call to action. What actions can each of us take to protect the health of our oceans? 

Mara Williams, curator

Newfoundland is a place that speaks to my soul. I have traveled several times to this easternmost part of Canada, and its rugged beauty and resilience led me to begin the work in Stemming the Tide

In the 1990s, Newfoundland’s cod-fishing industry collapsed. A government-imposed moratorium reshaped the entire economy and culture of the province overnight. I have been riveted by Newfoundland’s response to this ecological disaster.

I grew up within feet of the ocean in New Hampshire, at a time when most of us thought of the ocean as a boundless resource. Today, I see Newfoundland’s deep, fragile, and newly reconfigured relationship with the sea as a cautionary tale for us all.

With this installation, I have created a large quilt-like map that spans the coastal corridor from Greenland down to New England to emphasize the interconnectedness of these seemingly far-flung regions. Swimming out from this map and onto the gallery floor is a school of carved cod. I think of them as the spirits of the cod that were once so plentiful off the shores of Canada and New England. I look forward to a time when the depleted stock will replenish itself, perhaps surviving human existence on the Earth. I find it oddly comforting to think about the rejuvenating powers of nature when humans no longer dominate the planet. 

Hanging behind black veils of hand-knotted fishing nets are photographs of portions of the map that I set afloat in the waters of Newfoundland and Maine. Casting out sections of the mapped Earth into the sea is both a metaphor and a meditation on all that we are letting slip away.

— Jessica Straus

This exhibit is supported in part by BMAC’s Wolf Kahn & Emily Mason Exhibition Endowment Fund.


Jessica Straus lives in the Boston area and maintains a studio in Somerville, MA. Straus works primarily in wood and mixed media. Inventiveness, humor and narrative are key elements of her sculpture.

Straus has exhibited her work at numerous venues including Addison Gallery of American Art, New Britain Museum of American Art, Fuller Craft Museum, Danforth Art Museum, Duxbury Art Complex Museum, DeCordova Museum, Boise Art Museum, Nicolaysen Museum, Sculpture Center, ArtTerritoire in Normandy, France, and Qorikancha Museum of Peru. She regularly exhibits her work at Boston Sculptors Gallery, Boston, MA.

Her work is in the collections of DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, Fuller Craft Museum, the Art Complex Museum, the Davistown Museum, and numerous private and corporate collections.


June 22, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. — Opening of Eight New Exhibits
July 21, Sunday, 2 p.m. — Art x Science: Jessica Straus and Brendan Reid


Review: Vermont | Jessica Straus: Stemming the TideArt New England (July/August 2024)
Artist Jessica Straus to discuss BMAC exhibit with conservation ecologistBrattleboro Reformer (7/10/24)


Installation views
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