Fishing with Washington Ledesma

Courtesy of Washington Ledesma

Fish of all sizes and shapes decorate the studio of Island painter and ceramicist Washington Ledesma. On exhibit through July, the “Festival of Fish” represents the popular artist’s latest work, as well as paintings that date back as far as the 1990s.

That was when Mr. Ledesma learned how to fish, under the tutelage of Islander and photographer Vincent Price. Mr. Price also taught him to gut and fillet the fish he caught. Mr. Ledesma often tell this story: He was in Menemsha when he caught a small fish. The creature looked at him and said, “Why don’t you let me go? If you paint me, you’ll have me the rest of your life.”

The fish across the walls of the Ledesma Studio suggest he has listened to the message of that magical tale. The artist has long been known for his vivid, multicolored work executed in a folk art style. One large fish occupying a central place in the exhibit has swatches of red and green on its long mustard and orange body, and presents a different, less detail-oriented look than most of his work. The artist said the painting began with a sofa, seen behind the fish, and is still a work in progress. Most the fish are decorated with detailed rows of small scales, which give them a distinctive and lively look.

Executed in his characteristic style, four large paintings of boats are packed with animals, tree-lined hilltops, suns, and planets. Pairs of giraffes, lions, cattle, and birds are also part of the composition, representing Noah’s Ark. The largest one makes a sly reference to former president George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” announcement from an aircraft carrier, claiming the end of the Iraq War.

Another series of fish portraits depicts brightly colored groups swimming in schools. Round ones look like sunfish, while others have a long bass-like shape. With vivid gold backgrounds, some seem to be floating in seas of light. Two with marine plants in blue and green have a tropical feel, perhaps a reference to Mr. Ledesma’s native Uruguay. Equally as charming as the paintings are the variety of ceramic pieces in different shapes, from platters to pots and vases.


To visit the Ledesma Studio on Sea Glen Avenue in Oak Bluffs, call 508-693-1823.


This article by Brooks Robards originally appeared on