Fleurarium: A Gift for a Fishy Fellow
What she could possibly give her husband as a 25th wedding anniversary present was on Yusi Gurrera’s mind about a year and a half ago when she came up with a perfect solution. She would ask a friend who is a sculptor, James Grashow, who lives in Connecticut, to create something that would epitomize her husband’s main interest — fish.
Her husband is Joe Gurrera, who bought a small neighborhood fish shop called Citarella, which had been in operation since about 1912, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in 1983 and turned it into a multimillion-dollar business.
Mr. Gurrera was already in the fish business. He owned Lockwood and Winant, a wholesale seafood company in the Bronx, which had been in operation for more than 100 years. And he owned Meat Without Feet, as well, another wholesale fish supplier in the Bronx that sells to restaurants and hotels. The couple even named their cats for fish: Marlin and Minnow.
James Grashow sculpts in wood and cardboard and also does woodcuts. He calls what he came up with as a present for Mr. Gurrera a fleurarium, a cross between an aquarium and a garden (fleur is French for flower). He carved every piece from wood, even small wavy bits of sea grass reaching upward and tiny fragments at the bottom that look like soil. He also crossed jellyfish and mushrooms, naming them jellyrooms and painted varying colors behind the fish scales to produce subtle contrast. The finished product included groupers, snappers, and rainbow trout, all in crazy colors.
At the Gurrera home, the sculpture dominates the fireplace mantel. Mr. Grashow not only painted the base of the sculpture the same color as the stone mantelpiece, but built a slim black platform for it to effect a floating aspect.
The work includes flowers that seem to be metamorphosing into small eel-like creatures and very small fish that look like minnows, which are easy to overlook, as is a lone cricket on the seabed.
Using a pun, there was a potential catch: It did not seem likely that Mr. Grashow would be able to finish the sculpture in time for the Gurreras’ anniversary. The solution was a small-scale model as a placeholder.
“I didn’t want to be empty-handed on our anniversary,” Mrs. Gurrera said. “After all, my gift from him was to go to Lapland to see the aurora borealis. We stayed in glass igloos . . . and made our way through Scandinavia. We met with our seafood farmers in Norway and visited every food hall along the way . . . yum!”
In a nice turn of events, Mr. Gurrera was working on a book that has just been published, “Joe Knows Fish: Taking the Intimidation Out of Cooking Seafood.” Apparently it took him as long to write as it took Mr. Grashow to make the sculpture.
The Gurreras were at home, on their hard-to-find property in Bridgehampton, when Mr. Grashow and his wife, Guzzy, and a few friends drove up in a white van with signs on it that read: “Fleurarium.”