Detail of Basque dock tattoo during installationOur forebears on the high seas, Basque sailors discovered fishing off George’s Bank before northern Europeans did, and started the cod industry that made much of European and American seafaring possible, providing a source of cheap storable protein that fueled the industrial revolution. (from: “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World” by Mark Kurlansky)

“The Basques were also the first to commercially hunt whales. For five centuries they dominated the trade, spreading to the far corners of the North Atlantic and even reaching the South Atlantic.” In the early 1600’s Europe and North America started whaling by learning from the Basques, “for [they] were then the only people who understand whaling”, according to English explorer Jonas Poole. (from: Wikipedia’s “History of Basque whaling”.)

“The lauburu or Basque cross has four comma-shaped heads similar to the Japanese tomoe.” …”The Basque intellectual Imanol Mujica liked to say that the heads signify spirit, life, consciousness, and form, but it is generally used as a symbol of prosperity.” (from Wikipedia) It is found in old stone monuments (stelas and gravestones), and in woodcarving and carpentry. Also found in the region, and in modern tattoos of people connecting with their Basque history, are six-sided matematical rosettes that look as if they could be either celtic or middle eastern, derived from compass drawing.

Design Elements Used on the Pier:

  • COD: Not a part of Basque art, the codfish here symbolizes their contribution to our fishing and whaling industries.
  • The LAUBURU: or “Basque Cross” or “Four Heads” (regions of the Basque country), a traditional spiral motif symbolizing Life. It exists in both a “positive” form as a symbol of “Life” in Basque woodcarving and carpentry, and a “negative” (reversed) form found only on gravestones. Some say the emblem represents earth, wind, fire and water; others think it signifies the four winds or directions for Basque fishermen and sailors.
  • CIRCLE, SPIRAL AND ARC SHAPES: are often found in carved wood and stone pieces from the region.
  • BASQUE FONT: A variant of Roman carved serif lettering, adapted for local tools and materials, is also being used today as a symbol of the region.

Finished tattoo design: Basque Fishermen

Further Reading:

Installation Crew:

Design: Liz LaManche
Sketch, inking, surface protectant: Liz LaManche, Dan Alroy
Expanded design, September 2014:
Design & Sketch: Liz LaManche
Inking: Liz LaManche, Joe Rodgers
Sealant application: Heidi Clark, M.T. Murphy, Tanya Rose, Joe R.