I make the Glass Salmon, not to reproduce the fish but to create a likeness in glass that is 'glass with Salmon appearing'. Each Glass Salmon is an individual, one-of-a-kind. I do seriously try to make each fish a recognizable species and sex, with appropriate colouration. But I make them as glassy as possible and each individual has a personality and spirit.
The economic, cultural and spiritual importance of Salmon to the Northwest Coast is reflected in the iconic manner and recognizable image of Christopher Smith's beautiful glass fish. In pre-contact society, the abundance of this source of sustenance to the First Peoples was a divine gift from the Creator, harvested and used with great respect for it's origin. The image of spawning salmon, fighting through great cataracts and rapids, providing themselves to the bears, eagles, wolves and later in their death after a successful spawn, providing nutrients to the roots of the great giant fir, spruce and cedar of the coastal rain forest, is a powerful one.
The settler culture soon found great wealth in the abundance of fish and plentiful timber. Communities sprung up, up and down the coast, to capitalize on these resources. In fact the modern economy of the Northwest Coast is built on fish and timber.
It is the spiritual aspect of the Salmon that give me inspiration. Each individual fish, one of millions, has that aura of immortality, of a life given with a purpose, sustaining and enriching the other lives it contacts. Truly a gift from God
Each fish is one of a kind. I begin by carving a clay Salmon. I give this clay fish as much character and detail as I can. This is what my finished cast glass surface will be like. When I'm happy with my clay fish, I'll coat him or her in a plaster/refractory mix. When that sets up I'll remove the clay from the mold. In the meantime, I will have fused a glass fish skin, giving it the colouration and surface iridescence that I want. The mold is cleaned and volume determined, loaded with glass for eye, fins and other detail elements, then glass skins and finally glass billet to weight. Each Glass Salmon weighs up to 3 kilograms and sometimes more. It is then fired for 4 days. When cool the glass filled mold will come out of the kiln, the plaster/refractory is broken away, leaving a Glass Salmon. Some finishing and cold working of the glass maybe required. I often return the fish to them kiln for a 3 day bend firing. I then hand the Glass Salmon over to steel sculptor Nelson Shaw for the creation of the metal reed grass bases. Presented with the original concept of how the bases should look, Nelson will add his creativity to the individual personality of each Salmon sculpture. Finally I collect, glue and clear coat river rocks to the base and/or clear coat the steel to complete the work.