Ghostly fish swim in Idaho

  • Gregg Schlanger and his sculpture at Redfish Lake

    Monica Quattrochio photo
  Once there were thousands of sockeye salmon leaving the Pacific Ocean to spawn in Idaho's Redfish Lake. Only one sockeye salmon made it to the lake in 1994, 1995 and 1996; and not even one bright-red fish returned to spawn in 1997.


The decline of these once abundant native fish is something we ought to be "slapped in the face with," says Gregg Schlanger, a sculptor who grew up in Idaho. So Schlanger rounded up grants from several places, including the New York Foundation for the Arts, and started jigsawing fish from plywood.


His temporary exhibit at Redfish Lake, "Sockeye Waters, Sockeye Dreams," features 238 giant fish from two to eight feet long, and all but one are painted a ghostly white. One fish is painted red. Schlanger hopes the July 10-Aug. 10 show can help build awareness of the salmon's plight, for besides the sockeye, some 70 species of wild salmon are in danger of going extinct.


The exhibit travels to Boise, Idaho, for a Salmon Days celebration Sept. 11, and the sculptor says 4,000 fourth graders will get a chance to paint his wooden fish in the brightest colors. What he's aiming for ultimately, Schlanger says, is a 900-mile-long sculpture of 150,000 cutout fish, stretching from the town of Astoria on the Oregon coast to Washington and Idaho.


"Because fish are underwater, they can be ignored," he says. "I've been trying to pull them out of the water."


Gregg Schlanger works and teaches in Tennessee; he can be reached at 720 Perkins Ave., Clarksville, TN 37040.


* Betsy Marston