In 2012, I was commissioned to create a salmon to replace Ketchikan Creek's original fish sculpture created by local Haida carver Jones Yeltatzie in the mid 1960s (see inset photo at right). Yeltatzie's salmon was carved out of red cedar and years of weather had taken its toll.
For my version, I chose iridescent mosaic tiles, which stand up better to punishing conditions with the added benefit of beautifully mimicking actual fish scales. Structurely, it's hollow and has bulkheads and a keel like a submarine. I chose epoxy because of its strengths and I'm glad I did!
Shortly after we installed the salmon, we had a storm to end all storms—10.5 inches of rain in two days and no place for the water to go. With the addition of an extremely high tide (19 feet!), it looked like the fish was skimming over the top of the water. I was relieved to find the fish in fine form after the storm—not a scale out of place.
The 400-pound, 12' 2" long salmon took five months to complete and features more than 14,000 3/4 inch glass tiles. The eyeballs (made by local glass artist Terry Leberman), the red mouth and tail stripes were retained from Yeltatzie's original design.
After visiting Park Güell in Barcelona, I was inspired to do some sculptures covered with mosaic tile and I had the perfect place to put them: on top of the ugly steel pilings propping up the Promenade in my hometown of Ketchikan, Alaska.
The Promenade is a walkway that wends along Ketchikan's downtown waterfront along Thomas Basin boat harbor; I always felt that the pilings, a necessary eyesore, needed an artist's touch.
I started with the snail, a simple form by design, as I was personally breaking new ground with some of the materials I was using and knew there'd be a learning curve. I didn't regret this decision as I was able to apply what I learned to my next sculptures which were easier and better. My friend, Dave Rubin, assisted me in this labor of love by carving the octopus.
The "Pyling" Cap Project
The Rock is a bronze sculpture created by my friend and fellow local artist, Dave Rubin. Unbelievably, Dave had never sculpted anything before attempting this piece, which is a very "Alaskan" thing to do, actually! I had experience, so he hired me as a consultant to show him the ropes. We started with the first three figures—Chief Johnson (modeled after famous local Tlingit carver Nathan Jackson), the logger, and the fisherman (modeled after local fisherman/photographer, Chip Porter).
My job was to sculpt each body shape out of polystyrene. After each one was completed, we dressed them with real clothes and prepped them for the molding process. I created the Chief's Chilkat blanket from scratch, transferring a traditional Chilkat design from image to clay.
Together, along with Dave's sister, Judy (a professional claymation artist!), we worked for about a year on the first three figures. After that, Dave had enough experience of his own to complete the rest of his vision.
Above: Haida carver, Jones Yeltatzie, circa 1965. Left: My mosaic version of Yeltatzie's Salmon at very, very, very high tide!