ST. MICHAELS, Md., Aug. 18, 2023 – The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is pleased to announce a forthcoming special exhibition showcasing the work of photographer Kristin Rutkowski to highlight women who captain vessels on the Chesapeake Bay.
On public view starting Sept. 8, Her Helm: Portraits of Women on the Chesapeake brings a selection of photos from Rutkowski’s portrait project of the same name to the Van Lennep Auditorium. CBMM will host an exhibition-opening artist talk with Rutkowski on Thursday, Sept. 14 at 5:30pm. Registration is available now at bit.ly/HerHelm, with both in-person and virtual attendance options at a suggested ticket price of $8 per person.
With this two-year project, Rutkowski sought to challenge gendered stereotypes of who commands the wheel aboard vessels that ply the Bay.
“Women have long had vital roles in the Chesapeake’s fisheries and as skilled mariners,” CBMM’s Director of Curatorial Affairs & Exhibitions Jen Dolde said. “Nonetheless, their contributions frequently were not documented, or are not given the attention their contributions warrant. Kristin Rutkowski’s images boldly represent these women, and the oral histories give voice to their determination and passion.”
A Maryland-based portrait photographer, Rutkowski traveled the region to feature more than 50 women who make their own way on the water, discovering a network of recreational power boaters and sailors, charter boat and tug captains, maritime and environmental educators, and delivery boat and ferry operators. Each of them, she found, experienced unique obstacles and challenges as they built their confidence and capability on the water.
Captured in their element along the docks and waterways or at the helm of their vessels, these women are empowered through Rutkowski’s lens. The paragraphs accompanying each portrait spotlight the captains’ accomplishments and capture their voices using their own words from informal interviews with the photographer. CBMM’s parallel oral history project will record life history interviews with more than a dozen of the women featured in “Her Helm.”
The full collection of Rutkowski’s portraits will be featured in a soon-to-be published “Her Helm” book.
“I’m excited to share the Her Helm project, and the amazing women involved, with the friends of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum,” Rutkowski said. “CBMM’s mission to record and promote life and culture around the Bay makes it the perfect place to recognize the contributions and leadership of these women. I’m incredibly grateful for CBMM’s support in sharing this project and recognizing the importance of celebrating this demographic, of helping to normalize the fact that women are in charge of boats.”
Entrance to view Her Helm is included with general admission, which is free for CBMM members. This exhibition is funded through CBMM’s Regional Folklife Center under the Maryland Traditions program of the Maryland State Arts Council.
CBMM will offer programming around the exhibition over the coming months, starting with Rutkowski’s Sept. 14 talk.
On Oct. 23 at 5:30pm, Captain Judy Bixler will speak about her experiences at the helm of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry over the past two decades. Registration for the program, “Her Helm: The Oxford-Bellevue Ferry Tale,” is now at bit.ly/FerryTale. The suggested cost is $8 per person, with both in-person and virtual options available.