July 21 2014

Audrey Armstrong Fish Skin Art


This is Fish Radio. I’m Stephanie Mangini. Her teachings and passion is Alaska. Hear more after this…


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It was September 4th 2002 when Audrey Armstrong was mesmerized by a king salmon she had caught. From that day on she has turned salmon skins into beautiful pieces of art.   audrey


“The colors were so beautiful.  I just sat there and looked at the beautiful fish, and I said to myself, I know a long time ago they use to make garments and baskets and different containers out of fish skin. I wonder if I could make something out of this skin. And that is how I started. With trial and error, I learned on my own of cleaning fish and working on making different kinds of baskets.”


When looking for the old trade, Armstrong said the history had been lost.


“There was nothing really written. And I think the oldest piece I saw from my culture was from 1849. It was a child’s mittens made out of fish skins. They are so beautiful.  So now the majority of us working with fish skin it is all by trial and error, and by talking to other people who are working with fish skin and trying to bring it back. We are all learning from each other.”   


Armstrong uses an ulu to clean and scrap any fat from the skin, which she says keeps them from spoiling. Then she cleans them and freezes her skins. She sews all of her pieces by hand.


“I slowly work with it from the cooler.   Because it will dry out real fast as your sewing, you have to keep putting back in the cooler. And then you put it over your mold and it becomes a basket, or a vase, or bag.  It becomes whatever you are making. So my baskets have this hard surface to the skin and then I decorate them with beads, abalone shells, and dentalia shells, which represent the status of our Athabasca chiefs.”


She says that king salmon is her favorite skin to work with.  She also shares her skill all over Alaska.


“And now I have the honor of traveling around the state teaching people how to work on fish skin and how to do fish skin art. And I totally love it!”


Audrey will be holding a workshop this weekend at Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast find links at our website www.alaskafishradio.com


Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – serving Alaska’s fishing communities since 1910. On the web at www.oceanbeauty.com. In Kodiak I’m Stephanie Mangini..