Earl Cunningham's art is direct and sincere alternately referencing his life on sea, where he worked on large shipping vessels transporting goods between Maine and Florida, and his childhood. "In his work and in his life, Cunningham manifested a mixture of simplicity and sophistication that is characteristically twentieth-century even though it is disconcerting to anyone trying to apply traditional labels as naïve and folk artist. This mixture of simplicity and sophistication makes Cunningham appear to be postmodern" (R. Hobbs, Earl Cunningham: Painting and American Eden, New York, 1994, p. 34).
In 1949, Cunningham moved from Maine to St. Augustine, Florida where he opened The Over-Fork Gallery, selling a variety of items, from marine hardware to Indian artifacts. Here, Cunningham created a personal museum, which housed his brilliantly colored coastal scenes, "unique world[s] of unbridled, intense color and gentle, whimsical American scenery--a combination unknown in the works of any other painter of our time." (D. Force, Earl Cunningham's American Fantasies, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1997, p. 5) Coastal Waterways is exemplary of Cunningham's best works in its direct, simplified composition and powerful use of color.