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John F. Doherty ’88

The Art of Fishing

John Doherty likes fish. He goes diving to look at them, he sets out on his boat to catch them, and he likes to cook them to share with friends and family.

But before he fires up the grill, he turns his catch into works of art. Using an ancient Oriental technique called Gyotaku, Doherty creates colorful fish rubbings by painting the fish then pressing rice paper or lightweight fabric on top of the paint.

The rubbings started as a happy accident. He had just caught some bluefish, and as he was unloading them from his boat, he noticed the blood from one had seeped out from its gills and left a nearly perfect impression of the fish on the deck. “I thought, that’s so cool,” Doherty says. “I wonder if I could do that.”

After playing with various techniques, he did some research and learned that fish rubbings were used two thousand years ago in the Orient as a way to document fish species. Eventually the science turned to art, and today

Doherty’s method is remarkably similar to that of his ancient predecessors.

His favorite fish, he says, is striped bass. “Their scales come through the best, and their bodies tend to conform to rubbing.” Among his most memorable rubbings is a twelve-pound lobster. “It was more than three feet long,” he says. “I boiled it, rubbed it, and ate it—it tasted great.”

Doherty, who owns an independent insurance agency, lives with his wife and three children in Belmont, Mass. His family has summered on the Cape for years, though, and he has a summer home in Harwich where his studio sits on a dock, making the transition from fisherman to artist a simple step from boat to studio.

When his art is finished for the day, Doherty hoses the water-based paints off his fish and—voila!—dinner is served.

See Doherty’s work at

—Paula M. Bodah ’78

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