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Bringing the Catch Home
By Martha Worthley
(reprinted here with permission)

Port Townsend Leader, April 17, 2002

At the conclusion of the Soul Salmon auction, organizers announce 'Soul Salmon is now closed!'

With $43,000 raised on the auction block, Candy Gohn, one of the Soul Salmon project "muses," declared: "Soul Salmon is now closed!"

On Saturday night, April 13, the Celestial Salmon Soiree, an official evening of celebration to auction salmon sculptures created by artists and sponsored by businesses, nonprofit organizations and conservation groups, closed the official "art action" begun by Chimacum sculptor Sara Mall Johani.

"We were thrilled at the way things turned out," said Johani. "It was above our expectation and we felt that it went really well."

The auction was the conclusion of a two-year project that involved hundreds of community members from Jefferson County and groups throughout the Puget Sound region using art to raise awareness about salmon conservation and habitat.

The City of Port Townsend came home with "Quimper Coho," the salmon painted by Max Grover for the Main Street Program. Mayor Kees Kolff made the bid of $6,000 that secured "Quimper Coho" a place on its home ground, potentially as part of the City Hall annex project.

"There are a lot of people in the city who are excited about that particular fish staying here in port Townsend," says Kolff.

One side of Quimper Coho depicts Port Townsend - uptown, downtown and out to Point Wilson Lighthouse - and many baby fish. The other side features the peninsula landscape, with kayakers, evergreen trees, baby salmon and water.

"We were hoping that this artwork which depicts our town could find a home in Port Townsend, and we are delighted that the city has come forward to purchase this beautiful piece," said Mari F. Mullen, executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program.

Okazaki art

Seven painted salmon and three salmon blanks sold at auction along with "Salmon Dreams," a painting by Linda Okazaki, for a total of $35,800. Okazaki's painting illustrates the auction invitation and catalog cover. Also contributing to the total amount raised was $4,300 for the restoration of Thornton Creek in Seattle, $310 for cans of Riverdog Fine Arts' "Canned Soul Salmon," $1,610 for handmade salmon centerpieces that decorated each table, and raffle tickets sold for a donated, handblown glass vase.

At least one other Soul Salmon will return to its home waters. Attorney and Peninsula College board member Karen Gates Hildt bought "Spawned Out King," sponsored by Swain's General Store, Soul Salmon and Rainy Daze. Daze, a Port Angeles artist, created the fiery king salmon which "sports ripe spawning regalia encrusted with authentic abalone accents," according to the catalog. Hildt plans to bring the "King" to Port Townsend, while her other purchase, Lynn Di Nino's "Wrong Way Finnegan," will stay in Seattle. Proceeds from the sale of "Wrong Way Finnegan" go to the Jefferson Art Center Project, after expenses are met. Jefferson Art Center Project also benefits from the sale of "Lethe," created by Okazaki. It was purchased by Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center on Bainbridge Island.

"I think it's fabulous that Port Townsend came out such a winner," said Gohn, referring to both the fish that will stay here and the benefit received by sales for Jefferson Art Center Project "It's a nice marker for the project, since this was its home."

Michelle Kelley, the Soul Salmon project shepherd, added, "We would really love to thank all of the sponsors who took the time to be part of this project. We had a wonderful time and we really appreciated all of the folks who came and supported the event. Without all of them, it would not have been such a success."

Salmon species

Celestial Salmon Soiree took place at the Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center on Pier 66 in Seattle. It began with Chimacum sculptor Tom Jay, the creator of the original prototypes for the male and female salmon, speaking about the importance of salmon as a keystone species of the Pacific Northwest.

Johani presented "The People's Salmon," a gift for the governor of Washington state, to Jeff Koenings, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. "He was thrilled with the whole thing," said Johani. "The People's Salmon" is going to be on display at the Hands-On Children's Museum in Olympia, then it will be in the capitol rotunda."

Auctioneers Sharon and Dick Friel then proceeded, with the help of Bob Flick, to describe, present and auction the dazzling parade of fish. The Friels are known for raising more money for nonprofits than any other auctioneers in the Northwest, and they kept the evening lively. As each fish was paraded before the viewers on its way to the auction block, it was accompanied by music that reflected its artistic nature - and was a lot of fun besides.

"The Odyssey was such a perfect place to hold the auction," says Kelley. "We really wanted something unusual that was on the water, and we couldn't have found a better spot. The scale of the center and their focus on fish and the maritime environment provided a great setting."

Kelley worked with event planner Suzanne Hight. Every detail of the presentation was carefully conceived and exquisitely presented. Volunteers helped to create salmon centerpieces for each table. Designed by Johani, the centerpieces were ceramic salmon encircling a lighted candle and strewn with beach glass. Sprays of cedar added to the effect and were also used as embellishments on menus and gift bags. Each menu at the place settings also had a tiny porcelain salmon tied to it with raffia.

Jefferson Land Trust volunteers organized all of the registration and necessary paperwork. "They did an incredible job and were such a big help," notes Gohn, who along with other members of the Soul Salmon committee is deeply appreciative of the Jefferson County community.

With relief at having the final event behind her, Gohn is also aware that in one sense, the auction was a beginning. Kelley remarked: "One of the outcomes of the project was that partnerships were created between groups that didn't even know about each other before this happened. And personal connections continued to be made that evening. There are a number of folks who, inspired by the parade of salmon, are taking the catalog around and shopping the salmon!"

"The action is over, but the image lives on," concluded Johani.

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