Artist Rik Nelson's Portfolio of
Fantastic Fish Fabricated from Post-Consumer Recyclables

A Fish Tale

If you're wondering how I got started making fish, here's the serendipitous, circuitous, long-winded tale:

Earth Day

In the spring of 2000, the local Earth Day committee asked me to create and implement a "community art" project as part of their annual celebration. With the help of a cadre of poets, I constructed an 8' w. x 15' h. "poem board" which was erected in Spokane's Riverfront Park on Earth Day.

At first, the poem board contained no poetry, only decorative earthforms. During the day the poets talked to the festival-goers and from their words wrote short poems. I cut the letters, words, phrases, from recycled post-consumer paper, plastic and tin and stapled them to the poem board.

That was the gig—big, splashy. Because the poem board was basically just a large rectangle, I fabricated a four-foot long Bulltrout (a near-endangered species) from tin can lids and attached it at an angle, half on, half off the right side of the panel to lead the viewer's eye into the piece and to create visual interest. That Bulltrout was my first fish.

You can see more visuals of the project and read the Earth Day poems by clicking here.

The River and the Great Gorge Park Invitational Art Show

The environmental centerpiece of the greater Spokane area is the Spokane River. In 2004, the Lorinda Knight Gallery held an invitational show to promote a "Friends of the River" initiative to enhance the Spokane River shoreline and wildlife habitat downstream from the Avista dam near city center.

At the time, I was creating artworks on second-hand hollow-core doors. Using that format I created a piece called Concrete Ghost . It features Chinook salmon (which used to run in droves up the Spokane River—some at large as a person!) and a "concrete poem" I extracted from a poem about the river and the mythic creation of the falls by author Sherman Alexie. Click here to see more of the Concrete Ghost and read the poems.

Concrete Ghost created a "buzz." I'd never had a buzz before but I recognized it...and I liked it. Inspired by the buzz, after the show I fabricated a series of tin can lid Chinooks and bulltrout.

Koehler Gallery Solo Show

No fish here—just serendipity. I was invited to show my work at the Koehler Gallery at Whitworth College. As part of the commitment, I held a two-day seminar for students, faculty and community folk on using recycled materials to make artwork. Our group project was to make a Tower of Babel.

For the second day, I asked participants to bring their own recycled materials from home. On Day Two a couple young women brought in bottle caps to use. "Wow!" I thought, "I've always loved bottle caps. I should use them in some of my artwork." Duh.

Kay O'Rourke's Annual Show

For a while there, I was writing a weekly column, "Recycling with Rik," for the Spokesman-Review, Spokane's daily newspaper. It was fun. I tried to find ways people were recycling "creatively." (I think you can still read them at the paper's website:

One of the early stories I did (May 26) was about artist Kay O'Rourke's use of found materials to make "garden art." Kay's fantastic—a real inspiration. After the interview, Kay asked what I was working on and I told her about birdhouses ("branch libraries") I was making for a recycling how-to article (June 9). The birdhouses have old books for roofs.

Kay asked if I'd like to sell them at the art, garden art, and plant sale she holds each year (the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend) in her beautifully appointed and manicured yard. I was flattered and accepted. The day of the show only one birdhouse sold, but I'd taken along a handful of new, bottle cap rainbow trout (remember the Whitworth illumination?) and they all got snapped up right away. Voila! Bottle cap fish.

Artfest, TIEG, Art on the Green

The next year I took only bottle cap fish to Kay's show and sale. I'd expanded the range to include not only rainbow trout, but bulltrout and my own invention, the smallfry. Let me say, modestly, they went like hotcakes. Which was great. Uh, but the next weekend I was to show at Artfest, the Museum of Arts & Culture event, co-sponsored by the Spokane Art School (first weekend of June). In the week that followed I increased my inventory as much as I could. At Artfest, the fish won the "Best Use of Recycled Materials" award.

Now, I'm trying each year to find additional suitable shows to be in. One venue that is wonderful is The Inland Empire Gardeners' annual one-day home garden tour (mid-June). TIEG selects an area (like the South Hill) and about a half dozen homes with outstanding landscaping and flower gardens, and opens them up to the public. I've been invited for the past three years to display and sell at one of these homes. Always lovely.

Another show I'm delighted to be in is Art on the Green on the campus of North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (first weekend of August). Like Artfest, it is a juried show so the quality of artwork being presented is high. This show is near and dear to my heart because my dad and mom began taking my brother and me to the show in its early years (our early years, too).


Eh-buh-dee, eh-buh-dee, eh that's all folks.
All rights reserved by Rik Nelson, 2019.
No part of this site may be reproduced without the owner's permission.

Reduce Reuse Recycle