The old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” has proven true for 14-year-old Margot Schindler of Bay Springs, a student at Our Lady Academy. The Gulf of Mexico’s hard fighting saltwater catfish with its long, venomous spines is a scavenger that’s hated by shrimpers and saltwater anglers. Considered the buzzard of the seas, these gafftopsail catfish will eat live bait and anything dead, rancid, or what other fish won’t eat. Anglers who catch saltwater catfish generally throw them back, and they often die and wash up onshore.
Margot, who always has enjoyed art, has discovered the treasure of this fish in its head’s skeleton that earns it the title of the Crucifix Fish. Many people along the Gulf Coast know the legend of the Crucifix Fish. Margot combines beach treasures like driftwood and oyster shells with the skeletons. She’s created a demand for her art that’s now sold through Art Alley in the Pass in Pass Christian and online.
Capt. Sonny Schindler shared the story of the Crucifix Fish with his daughter Margot six years ago, and they decided to use the skeletons inside the gafftopsail cats’ heads to craft wall hangings. They agreed that the money Margot made from her art would be deposited in her college fund, which today has grown to several thousand dollars.
A thriving business
Bill Cash, a fishing guest at the lodge on Cat Island where Sonny guides, was enamored of the legend and the Schindlers’ ideas for displaying the catfish skeletons. Cash saw Sonny gathering the raw materials he and Margot needed for their displays. He asked Sonny to send some samples of the art to his wife, Beth Cash, who owned an art gallery.
Beth Cash said her standing order today is for, “As many crucifix fish as Margot can provide,” and sells more than 100 unique pieces of Margot’s art each year.
Margot said, “I love building this crucifix art with my dad because it gives us some alone time, while walking on the beaches to pick up catfish skeletons, collecting the materials for the backgrounds, catching other saltwater catfish, putting them in crab traps, returning for the skeletons the crabs pick clean and enjoying fresh blue crab meat.”
“The skeletons have to be cleaned, dried, cleaned again and dried once more,” she said. “I bleach them white, sometimes paint them and work with my dad then, who’s studied the best adhesives to permanently attach the skeletons and the background oddities. Mrs. Beth includes a copy of the Legend of the Crucifix Fish with each scene I make. Christmas, Easter, spring and summer are the primary selling times for my crucifix art. No matter how many I make, I still never seem to make enough art pieces to meet the demand every year.
“My dad is busy with his charter fishing business, but he always makes time for me and my art. My mom also helps us with our projects, and we all have fun working together. I especially enjoy making something beautiful and useful from what’s ugly and unwanted.”