Charlie Ferguson painting a watercolor in a sketchbook on the deck at “Flounder In”
September 8, 2011
Photograph by Marnie Briggs

In the full sweep of Fishers Island’s history, there is no artist more synonymous, more closely associated with Fishers Island than Charles B. “Charlie” Ferguson. He was an active artist on island for seven decades, from the 1940s to the mid-2010s, producing an incredible array of landscapes, waterscapes, and nature studies, along with other art covering a multitude of diverse subject areas. His works are often familiar and instantly recognizable as “Charlies.” Recently, a body of his work became accessible that is far less known and not as easy to identify as coming from his hand. This work was for the most part hidden away in two distinct sketchbook series that Charlie started in the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s. The books functioned as illustrated diaries that were filled with daily activities, nature observations, personal notes, and lots of art—drawings, sketches, and watercolors—in various states of completion. The series Charlie initiated in the mid-1970s focused on his annual trips to far-flung foreign places, as well as to various destinations in the United States. Beginning in 1985, Charlie began a second, parallel sketchbook series that recorded, in both text and art, his time on Fishers Island. To reflect the two different subject areas, this exhibition has been split into two sections: “Travels with Charlie” and “Fishers Island.” His travel sketchbooks spanned the years 1978-2008, the “F.I.” sketchbooks, 1985-2016. Remarkably, Charlie was 97 when he started his last sketchbook in 2016.

In the introduction to his 2011 book, Flounder In – Fishers Island Sketches, Charlie wrote: “Some of my best work is in the pocket-sized sketchbooks…Many of them have been devoted to scenes from Fishers Island, where I was born and have spent a good deal of my life, much of it in and around “Flounder In,” the house that my wife Alice and I bought in 1946. My sketches have been done so rapidly that they contain a freshness and spontaneity often missing in the finished work derived from them. The sketchbooks are my autobiography, for I am what I paint and I paint what I am.”

In his 2014 memoir, A Path Less Traveled, he revealed that he once wrote a paper titled, Sketching at 60 mph. He humorously recounted the process by which he put his philosophy into action while on the road: “During my travels, I would sketch scenes quickly by day, then color them in by night when I returned to my quarters, turning hotel bathrooms into make-shift studios, complete with running water for my brushes and sometimes a hotel dryer to speed up the drying. Often Alice would say, “Hurry up, Charlie, dinner awaits!”

In a sketchbook entry in 2008, Charlie laid bare how important and defining the sketchbooks were to him: “My personal feeling about these 4 x 6 inch books is that they represent ME. They illustrate what I really care for and what I see and attempt to record. Charlie died on January 7, 2018, just five months shy of his 100th birthday. We hope that this exhibition sheds light on and reflects with clarity new facets of Charlie’s artistry, his powers of observation, and his love of natural history.

The Museum would like to acknowledge the generous donation of 70 original sketchbooks to our collection by the Estate of Charles B. Ferguson, a fulfillment of a bequest by Charlie. To state the obvious, without these, there would be no show! The Museum would also like to thank the co-sponsors of this year’s exhibitions: Altus Partners, a risk management and insurance brokerage firm founded by Charlie Wilmerding in 1997, and the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. A grant from the Jeanann Gray Dunlap Foundation enabled the digitizing of the images on display. We greatly appreciate the generosity of those who have loaned original art for the “Travels with Charlie” section: Marnie and Kit Briggs, Steve Hulslander, and Jessica Hulslander-Stabley. We couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you!

Tug pushing barge transporting house from Connecticut mainland to Fishers Island in 1920
F.I. Sketchbook 2011
Artist: Charles B. Ferguson

The pictured house was hauled out and situated at water’s edge on Fishers Island’s north shore near North Hill by Mr. Graham from Norwich who occupied it seasonally for several decades. It was purchased by Charlie Ferguson’s family in 1946 and named “Flounder In.”

“Flounder In” at dusk
September 14, 2016
Photograph by Alex Mckown

Purchased for $600.00 in the mid-1940s, this shingled seaside cottage served as the beloved homebase of Charlie Ferguson’s family on Fishers Island for more than seven decades.

For his art, Flounder In provided Charlie an incredible vantage point to intimately observe and record a spectacular parade of passing bird and animal life—eiders, gulls, seals, otters, herons, terns, hawks, etc.—not to mention the endless variations offered daily by wind, weather and the sea. His artistic observations live on in countless sketches made from his perch on Flounder In’s deck that was literally only a few feet from the surrounding waters of Fishers Island Sound.

Charlie’s sketchbooks on display in case at HLFM.

– Pierce Rafferty,
Director HLFM

This annual exhibition is sponsored by ALTUS Partners & CHUBB

Fishers Island

Sketchbooks (1985-2016)

Travels with Charlie

Sketchbooks (1978-2008)

Annual exhibition sponsored by ALTUS Partners & CHUBB