Volume 20, Number 46 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 10 - 16, 2010

Naima Rauam remembers the Fulton Fish Market

By Terese Loeb Kreuzer

It will be exactly five years on November 11 since the Fulton Fish Market, once centered on South Street between Fulton Street and Peck Slip, moved to Hunts Point in the Bronx, but artist Naima Rauam evokes the vanished sights and clamor of the market in her drawings and paintings.

“When the market was here, I would go out night after night with my sketchbook and I would jot down detailed sketches and compositional sketches and mood sketches, backing them up with photographs for detail,” Rauam said. “I’ve got so many compositions that I want to do that I will never live long enough to do them all.”

Her show, “Remembering Fulton Fish Market,” will be at 210 Front St. through Nov. 28 and, with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, will be open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 7 p.m.

Rauam’s art evokes hard work in all kinds of weather, the strength and skill of the men whose livelihood was selling fish and the moodiness and camaraderie of a world that came alive at night and disappeared at dawn. She also depicts the centuries –old buildings in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and the cobblestone streets over which the men pulled their heavy hand trucks.

“When there was a blizzard and the City didn’t sweep the streets, these guys had to get the fish delivered,” Rauam recalled. “They would put two men on a hand truck. One pushed and the other pulled. They survived the night and that was a triumph.”

Rauam remembers November 11, 2005 very well. It was the market’s last night of business on South Street.

“They had a normal business night. Around 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning, the dismantling started,” said Rauam. When the selling of fish was over and part of the market crew started cleaning up, other people started packing up. Everyone was dragging their possessions out of their offices and loading these trucks and trailers. They had refrigerators, and office supplies and personal things and furniture and file cabinets. It’s as if they were refugees and had to flee. They had to take all this stuff up to the Bronx.”

Rauam accompanied one man in his truck, sitting on a box. “We went up to the Bronx and there was desolation – this totally empty building that had to be made into a home. It was a very poignant experience – that final day.” The men worked frantically through the weekend to get ready for Monday, when they would have to start selling fish again — a million pounds a day. “They had to put their adjustments and their emotions aside,” Rauam said. “They had to sell fish, because this is their living.”

Rauam first visited the Fulton Fish Market in 1965 to fulfill an assignment at the Art Students League, where she was studying. She was supposed to make an action painting. She went to the market, thinking she would see little but dead fish. She was entranced. She kept coming back and eventually went to live in the market. Though the fishmongers are gone, she still has a studio in the South Street Seaport.

“Naima has a wonderful gift for capturing the essence of a thing, whatever it is,” said Deborah Erickson, who visited Rauam’s show on opening night. “She captures the sheen on the streets, the cobblestones, the way the cardboard boxes buckle under the weight of the fish, the way ice spills out, the movement of the men.”

Erickson sold fish in the market for nine months in the 1980’s before going to her day job as an associate editor of a biotechnology newsletter at McGraw Hill. “It was fantastic,” she said, “the sights and the sounds and the smells. Getting to know the fish. Getting to know the people of that time and just to be awake at that time – to watch the sun come up, to warm my feet by the warming fires, to eat fish that the guys would cut up and roast on the wood planks of the crates under the warming lights. It’s a shame the Fish Market moved away.”

Naima Rauam brings it back.

For more information about Naima Rauam and her art, go to www.artpm.com.

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