For long-time photographer Cathryn Jirlds [pronounced “Geralds”], Southport is where the magic happened: Her passion for photography reignited, and she connected with the people and the ships of the Cape Fear.
Her stunning work, “Ships of the Cape Fear River,” will be on display June 2-29 at Intracoastal Realty, 122 N. Howe St., Southport. An opening reception will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, June 2, in conjunction with the town’s First Friday Gallery Walk.
The exhibit is free and open to the public June 2 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Starting June 3, the exhibit will be open for viewing Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Intracoastal Realty’s downtown Wilmington office hosted her exhibit’s debut in March; they loved it so much that they offered her their Southport office space for June. “I am very grateful to Intracoastal Realty, the Town of Southport and the area’s vibrant art community for being so welcoming,” she said.
Caregiving, relocating, COVID-19 isolation
Jirlds has always loved showcasing the beauty of the world around her. But when she and her husband, Gene, moved from the Research Triangle to Leland in 2020, she felt adrift—years of prior caregiving had been exhausting, while COVID-19 limited her ability to make new connections.
She began driving down to Southport to watch the huge container ships coming through on their way to the Port of Wilmington. “I started taking photos from the fishing pier. I would be among the fishermen and chatting with them before sunrise to see the ships enter the Cape Fear River.
“Then I met other ship watchers on the waterfront and found out about the Cape Fear River Ship Watchers Facebook Group, and suddenly I was connected again,” she added. “I was so touched that several group members attended the Wilmington exhibit. They also posted pictures to their Twitter feeds!”
“It’s really something to see one of the enormous ships enter Southport and navigate all the twists and turns of the Cape Fear River, then driving over the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to Wilmington’s waterfront,” she added. “Ships of the Cape Fear River” showcases the large ships and smaller ships, such as the tugboats that guide the larger vessels, and includes a number of striking abstract versions of the varied subjects.
As for visitors to the June exhibit in Southport: “I want to show in a memorable way the dynamic port activity with the different ships, from large container ships to bulk carriers, tankers and tugs, coming and going in and out of port. “I hope the viewers look and ask, ‘Is this a painting or a photograph?’ We got such great comments at the Wilmington exhibit. I can’t wait to see what Southport visitors have to say,” she added.
More about the artist
Jirlds is from Houston, Texas. In 1980, she took a freighter from her hometown to Piraeus, Greece. That extraordinary experience began her love affair with ships. Along the way, she has earned an outstanding reputation for fine art, travel, and documentary photography. She holds a Certificate in Documentary Studies from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and has contributed to regional South Carolina magazines. She also has been published in various magazines and newspapers from Atlanta to Philadelphia to Austin.
Jirlds has received numerous awards and recognitions, but she is especially honored to have had her photo-documentary exhibit, “Last Generation: Our Vanishing Southern Heritage,” selected by the Southern Arts Federation to tour nine southeastern states from 2001 through 2004. The compelling photographs capture one of the South’s oldest agricultural traditions—family tobacco farming—and are on permanent display at Duke Homestead State Historic Site, Durham, N.C.