Crowds of people channelled into the Terrace Art Gallery Dec. 7 to admire the striking detail of the scales and fins swimming across the gallery’s newest exhibit.
Local artist Sarah Zimmerman’s ‘The Fish Project’ memorializes salmon and oolichan in northwest rivers using the old Japanese art of fish printing. Zimmerman has been crafting pieces for the show since 2017, with each painting taking weeks to complete.
The exhibit features three different expressions of salmon and oolichan highlighting the sustaining relationship between northwest residents, both settler and Indigenous, and the fish residing in the region’s rivers.
Fish either gifted by friends or caught by Zimmerman herself are cleaned, painted with acrylic paint and pressed onto rice paper. Then using a gel transfer technique, these fish printings are transferred onto wooden panels and finished with a few whimsical details.
The traditional Japanese method of nature printing is a practice that dates back to the mid-1800s, and used by fisherman to record their catch of the day.
“It started with a curiosity about that technique and it really became more of a connection to place and the importance of fish to myself and people in this area,” Zimmerman says.
Then in a series titled ‘liquid gold,’ Stó:lo artist Amanda Hugon and Zimmerman collaborated on several oolichan block prints to pay homage to the Indigenous tradition of harvesting grease from the small smelt.
“That really spoke to both of us about the healing qualities, the ceremonial qualities and cultural importance of the oolichan,” she says.
At the centre of the lower gallery stands a replica of an oolichan drying rack created with Gitxsan/Nisga’a artist Jaimie Davis.
In this collaboration, Davis meticiously hand-braided strands of cedar together to make the cords used to hang the handmade silver-leafed oolichan fish. One rack is left empty to symbolize the declining populations facing the once abundant oolichan runs.
“A lot of the pieces will have many images of oolichan…and then there will be something missing or different, which represents how fragile the stocks are.”
One piece in the show is being auctioned until Dec. 29 as a fundraiser for the Bruce Hill Young Activist fund developed by the Skeena Wild to honour Bruce Hill, a Terrace-based salmon conservationist who passed away in September 2017.
Music for the show’s opening was provided by local musician Nathan Meakes (aka Bulltrout).