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Sculptor Aims For Fish Camp Realism

Several bronze sculptures are ready to be installed outdoors in Bethel, at the entrance of the new hospital addition. Sculptor Joel Isaak and construction crews are just waiting for the right weather conditions to pour the concrete beneath the life-sized bronzes of a family at fish camp. 

Isaak has spent time researching the history of fishing in the region, even going out to fish camps to develop realistic renditions in bronze. He spent time on every detail, including the reality of being young and small, and pulling out fish from a net.

“The father’s pulling out a net and the son’s trying to get the fish out, and the fish is almost as tall as he is,” said Isaak. “And so that was one of the conversations about how big are the kids? And it’s like they need to be big enough to help at fish camp, but it’s almost like they’re not quite old enough. Like he could lift that fish, but the father’s really pulling, holding up the weight, and the son’s just trying to get the fish gill out of the net.”

The expressions and shapes of faces were also very important to Isaak, who is Dena'ina from the Kenai Peninsula. He didn’t want it to be the portrait of a particular person, but real enough that it could have been. He would text his Yup’ik friends pictures of the faces in clay to see if they were realistic. When a friend said that the clay model looked a bit like one of his cousins, he knew he had it.

“I’m like, 'Okay. If I get to the cousin realm, or an aunt or uncle realm, it means that I’m close,'” said Isaak.

The entire project has been a growing experience. Isaak said that it started as just an image of one person, but grew into an entire family to capture the reality of fish camp. Isaak hopes to have the bronzes installed at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Hospital by August 2021.

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