Interestingly, food at Gouldsboro’s Corea Wharf Gallery — now the Wharf Gallery & Grill — was an afterthought, just a way to lure people into the photo gallery.
The owner, lobster fisherman Joe Young wanted more than anything to showcase his aunt’s photography.
The aunt, Louise Young, died in 2004 after spending years documenting the people and way of life in the fishing village.
“I don’t care if people buy them,” he said of the photographs. “I just want people to see them.”
The irony is that today the lunch spot overlooking Corea Harbor is one of the most popular seasonal eateries on the Schoodic Peninsula, and well beyond.
The Wharf Gallery & Grill was named Down East magazine’s best lobster shack in Maine for 2016.
And the gallery, to Joe’s great satisfaction, attracts much interest as well.
Louise, he said, was not one to trumpet her accomplishments, whether it was photographing acclaimed American artist Marsden Hartley or making Eugene Atgèt prints alongside another legend, Maine photographer Berenice Abbott.
When he prepared to open the gallery, Joe painted the walls of his bait shed white and hung prints of Louise’s images on the wall.
“Once in a while someone would come in,” Joe said. “My wife, Karen Jo, said: ‘If you want people to come down you should have some food.’”
So his son, Andrew, a music teacher now living in Florida, set up a cart selling first hot dogs, then sausage, onion and pepper on hoagies, then lobster rolls.
Every year since then, Joe has made improvements: an enclosed kitchen, a larger wharf, more seating, new additions to the menu.
Today the menu includes fish chowder, steamed lobster, crab claws, lobster grilled cheese, hot dogs, soy dog, grilled cheese, grilled ham and cheese and Italian sausage or steak and cheese with grilled onions and green peppers on a hoagie roll. Diners can finish off their meal with ice cream or a whoopie pie or other dessert.
It is all very gratifying to Joe, whose family goes back six generations in Corea.
The first Joe Young — one of two founding families in the village — sailed to Corea in 1812 from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Joe’s grandparents, Forrest and Katie Young, had two children, Joe’s father, Joe Arthur Young, and Aunt Louise.
Although his Dad readily found a place for himself — the family moved to Calais so that he could work at Eastern Fine Paper Co. — Louise had to search harder.
“She knew when she was growing up that she was different, that she was not a fisherman’s wife,” Joe said.
First Louise tried waitressing and then apprenticed as a photographer in Bangor at the age of 17.
The Corea village area was a magnet for visual artists, among them painter Marsden Hartley, who boarded with Katie and Forrest for three years and died in Ellsworth.
One day Hartley went to Bangor to have Louise take his photo. Joe said Hartley loved to be photographed.
“Louise wanted to please him and the only thing she knew how to take were passport photos,” Joe said. “She didn’t know what else to do after taking his picture with his hat on, so she told him to take his hat off. She hands him the photographs. He was furious.”
Those two photos are among the prizes in Joe’s collection.
Louise went on to head up the darkroom for Bachrach Studios in Boston and then had her own photography studio.
Along the way she met Berenice Abbott, who had purchased half of famed French photographer Eugene Atgèt’s estate and asked Louise to help her make prints from the 20 to 30 glass plates Abbott owned.
Atget was the chronicler of a disappearing Paris at the turn of the 19th century, something Abbott went on to do in New York City.
Louise returned home regularly, photographing familiar sights, but focused most of her portraits on her father working as a fisherman.
“For many years she never got any recognition,” Joe said.
Louise bequeathed her negatives and hundreds of photographs to her nephew Joe and a small sampling of his favorites adorn the walls in the bait shack. He makes the prints and frames them.
Some photos chronicle things that have since disappeared —such as the Corea signpost —while others are fixtures in the area, such as the lighthouse in Prospect Harbor.
“People are able to see a piece of what it was like,” Joe said. “When you grow up with it, you don’t notice when it’s changing.”
“People look at the harbor and they’ll look at the photos,” he said. “In a way it’s changed, in a way it hasn’t.”
Although Joe’s family was away for many years, they regularly came back to Corea.
“Home was always home,” said Joe, who returned to Corea with his parents and started lobster fishing.
Today Joe is often found wandering between the tables on the wharf, eager to share stories with diners who are in awe of the views overlooking the working harbor.
And he loves chatting up visitors in the gallery, where he provides whatever background they might want on the photographs.
The whole idea, Joe said, is to provide a legacy for Louise.
The Corea Wharf Gallery & Grill is located in the Gouldsboro village of Corea. The restaurant is open through Columbus Day, Oct. 10, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., weather permitting. For more info, call 963.8888 and visit www.corealunch.com.