Cheryl Samuel – Everyone Waits for the Salmon

Monday 9 July 2018

The phone rang: it was a call from Mark Hobson of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “Cheryl, we are inviting 50 artists from British Columbia to take part in an exhibition concerning the dangers of putting super tankers on our northern coast. Will you join us?” I thought of the myriad islands which dot this coast, the extremely high tides, the wild storms and the earthquake fault that is overdue for a major shake… The overwhelming spectre of an oil spill brought an instant “Yes.”

I already had the bowl. Garry oak is a tree indigenous to our area; as it is a protected tree, we only have access to damaged wood. Some of the big trees are as old as 450 years. When getting a large piece of Garry oak, I like to turn the biggest bowl possible in order to showcase the tree. I turn green and the blocks are very heavy – upwards of 150kg. It takes two strong men to lift a block onto my lathe. I turn the walls to 16mm with a rim that also rolls under to 16mm. Wrapped in towels, blankets and bags which are changed daily for four months, the bowl dries to a lovely oval. With thoughts of bitumen in mind, I blackened the outside of the bowl with a propane torch, then steel brushed and waxed it.

Ideas seem to present themselves when working on a project like this. I walked into a hobby store and there on the top shelf was a piece of glass that looked exactly like an oil spill. I cut a circle and 'floated' it in the bottom of the bowl.

Inspiration for the pewter salmon skeletons came from attending a rotation by John Wessels at the AAW Symposium in San Jose in 2012. He made casting pewter look easy with a cast iron frying pan, a camp stove and recycled steins and mugs. Lots of experimentation produced salmon skeletons carved in wax and then imbedded in silicone. The moulds could be used again and again; eventually I poured a whole 'school' of fish. They had to be bent to match the inside curve of the bowl and then attached with epoxy.

If there is no threat of an oil spill, the glass can be removed, and the salmon will spawn! Eagles, bears, wolves, humans – everyone waits for the salmon….