“All the little things,” on exhibit at the Schack Art Center in Everett, is made from marine debris and metal armature, namely “disposable” lighters.

“All the little things,” on exhibit at the Schack Art Center in Everett, is made from marine debris and metal armature, namely “disposable” lighters.

Disposable lighters fished from ocean light up exhibit’s point

“Salmon School Ambassadors” is on display through Feb. 23 at the Schack Art Center in Everett.

  • Thursday, January 10, 2019 6:44am
  • Life

By Gale Fiege

Special to The Herald

EVERETT — The exhibition opening today at the Schack Art Center is intended to inspire people to action, instead of imposing paralytic fear. Even so, the exhibit does offer a scary view of what is happening on Earth.

Involved are artists who played a part in producing the world-touring glass art installation known as “School.” Referring to a school of fish, “School” was inspired by the rapidly diminishing numbers of highly revered salmon and steelhead that return to spawn in the Skagit River. These include the chinook so vital to our local orca whales. Once numbering in the millions, the Skagit’s stocks now number in the tens of thousands.

“School” — the brainchild of Arlington glass artist and angler Joseph Rossano — isn’t at the Schack. Viewers will have to wait until April to visit Bellevue Arts Museum to see the more than 2,500 life-sized glass fish forms that are part of the huge mirrored installation.

In a must-see preview, however, the Schack has hung an impressive array of work from Rossano and about 40 of his friends, many who are from our region.

Among the artists involved in this exhibit titled “Salmon School Ambassadors” is April Surgent, of Port Townsend.

Surgent’s glass work is an example of the current environmental movement that pairs artists and scientists to boost awareness of problems and encourage conservation measures. (The Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner just closed an exhibit that served as a collaboration between the Skagit Climate Science Consortium and the museum to draw attention to climate change.)

Surgent’s “All the little things: Portrait of an Ocean, 2017” is displayed at the Schack. The colorful 9-foot-by-9-foot grid shows hundreds of disposable lighters that were found by Surgent and others on small atolls northwest of Hawaii.

Surgent was there in 2017 as a resident artist and volunteer with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program.

“This is an extremely remote area, just 10 feet above sea level, with no existing infrastructure,” Surgent said. “And every square foot of this islet was covered in trash. It was crazy. I was overwhelmed by the problem. This was not the result of a freighter dump. This is just how much trash there is out in the oceans.”

The disposable lighters featured in this artwork were collected by field biologists off the shores of Hawaii in about a year.

The disposable lighters featured in this artwork were collected by field biologists off the shores of Hawaii in about a year.

During her volunteer work spotting monk seals, Surgent casually began picking up the plastic disposable lighters that are now part of her “Portrait” piece. The lighters are from all over the world, as were the toothbrushes, shoes and other trash she found. Surgent cited a study that predicts that by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish.

“So the world population is about 7 billion right now, and everybody needs a toothbrush,” she said. “I had always been environmentally aware, but this really made me pay attention to what happens to my trash. Healthy marine ecosystems are vital to all life on Earth, not only because the oceans are a rich natural resource, but because they also produce more than half of the oxygen we breathe and they regulate the climate. By changing the way we consume, we can generate positive change.”

Rossano, who first moved to Snohomish County to study and work at the Pilchuck Glass School, has long been interested in environmental issues and especially about raising awareness about the state of salmon and steelhead and their habitat.

A small section of Rossano’s blown glass “School” of fish is on view in Schack’s mezzanine gallery along with other works that he terms “science projects.”

“I want people to walk away from the work exhibited at the Schack and have something to think about,” Rossano said. “The goal is to engage the community around the world as we take a look at global fisheries. As ‘School’ travels, the narrative will change to cast light on the local rivers wherever it is shown.”

Meanwhile, La Conner artist Meg Holgate will show soulful images of fish nets in the main gallery.

“I like being a part of this big, bold conceptual idea and being among artists who can speak to larger issues,” she said. “My nets are a way of speaking about the beauty of net craft, but also about the darkness and loss because these nets are empty.”

If you go

“Salmon School Ambassadors” exhibit, Jan. 10 through Feb. 23, main gallery; “Allure of the Fish” exhibit, Jan. 10 through Feb. 1, mezzanine gallery; Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett. Opening reception with the artists is 5 to 8 p.m. Jan. 17, part of the monthly Everett art walk. Free.

In conjunction with the Schack exhibits, fishing guide and filmmaker Mark Titus will show his documentaries “The Breach” and “The Wild” at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Historic Everett Theatre, 2911 Colby Ave., Everett. $10. The film asks the question: Where have all the fish have gone and what might bring them back?

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