What color is your shad?


Shad as canvas, Lambertville Shad Fest

paint a shadShad became canvas and medium over the weekend in Lambertville, N.J., where the annual Shad Festival had a novel hands-on art table at which kids painted real shad with brightly colored paint. A sheet of art paper was pressed against the painted fish and peeled back — producing a colorful print. Parents paid $5 for each young artist, who will long remember the day they turned a drab shad into a rainbow shad.

Using shad as canvas has an avant-garde bent, perhaps, but there was something undignified in it. Not that kids would notice, but for a festival named for the fish, I’m not sure that painting a dead shad affords it the respect it is due.  After each customer, one of the booth girls would wipe the slate, er, shad clean; their scales were remarkably resilient.

map with Philadelphia at bottom, Lambertville, NJ, at topBut at least it’s good to see the shad has made a comeback at the festival. A few years ago it was barely possible to find evidence of the species except in the festival name. But this year there were several venues for buying and eating the shad, as well as shad jewelry and other shad-inspired crafts and tributes. (High water in the Delaware River prevented the traditional shad-netting exhibitions, but the local fishing family’s exhibition was there, on higher ground than usual.)

Despite the medium, the shad prints looked stunning — the art fish far more interesting than the brownish original. It reminded me of how the New Jersey State Aquarium opened in the early ’90s by displaying only native New Jersey fish, which the operators quickly learned were not enough to bring people back for a second visit.

The aquarium eventually stocked more colorful fish, and fish like those in the prints in Lambertville would have easily qualified. After each child signed his or her new masterpiece, the artwork was hung on a line to be retrieved after it had fully dried. By late afternoon, the line of fish would have been right at home in a tropical reef.

shad gets a paint job

artist signs her shad art

yellow-tail shad

shad never looked this good
the fish line, lambertville shad fest


One Response to “What color is your shad?”

  1. 1 Bob sacha

    Great images and nice story too! Congrats!!!!

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