I’ve been painting and sketching native oysters, Ostrea edulis. I buy them from oyster fishermen at Mylor in Cornwall near Falmouth. It was bitterly cold then and it’s pretty cold now.
It takes a long time to establish a native oyster bed. They were a major source of cheap food. In 1851, for example, a round 500 million oysters were sold through Billingsgate. Our oyster beds were destroyed by a series of cold winters, surely not the first though, in the mid 20th Century, and then pollution, the parasite, Bonnania Ostrea, the beastly slipper limpets and oyster drills which drill holes into them and eat it contents, they are a big threat for commercial oyster farms.
Now they can only be collected under license in Scotland.
Oysters change back and forth from female to male according to the temperature of the water. You get in the bath nice and hot, go to sleep, and wake up in cold water, surprisingly different. Well, surprising the first time, but native oysters can live for 20 years so they may get used to it.
Native Oysters, acrylic on canvas 50 cms x 100 cms
You can see my work in London at the The Flying Colours Gallery and at Oliver Contemporary
All photographs by James Forshall
I drove down to Cornwall to see if I could find some native oysters at the Fal Oyster Fishery. They have been harvesting oysters here for more than 500 years, and it is the only fishery, which only uses sailing and rowing boats, as far as I know, in Britain, or for that matter Europe….so very ecological, and one of the few places in Britain where you can buy the native oyster, Ostrea edulis. It was freezing when we arrived in Mylor. We were told to look for the boat with the red sail. And there it was out in the estuary, in an icy north wind, moving surprisingly fast, with another small white open sail boat. It was freezing on the shore…freezing. What it must have been like in the boat, on the open water, handling wet rope and metal and the rough shells I could hardly imagine.
Later, we caught up with Chris Ranger, the skipper and owner of two of the boats, as he was warming up in the bar. He sold me 6 of his large oysters to sketch and paint. You can contact him through www.cornishnativeoysters.co.uk
photographs by James Forshall © www.jamesforshallphotography.com