A younger John Sayer stands next to the cedar log that would be carved into the salmon sculpture currently on display at the Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan campus. (Contributed)

A younger John Sayer stands next to the cedar log that would be carved into the salmon sculpture currently on display at the Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan campus. (Contributed)

Salmon Arm Secondary students work to restore iconic cedar salmon sculpture

M├ętis artist John Sayer created artwork with SAS students more than two decades ago

The iconic cedar salmon sculpture at Salmon Arm Secondary is in good hands.

Students at the Sullivan campus have been working on restoring the large sculpture, sanding, grinding and preparing it to be sealed with a wood finish, such as what is used on log homes, all under the guidance of Métis artist John Sayer.

Salmon Arm Secondary (SAS) Indigenous education worker Chelsea Hill said she’s received numerous emails from community members concerned about the condition of the sculpture, which has been on display at the Sullivan campus for several years.

“I want them to know it’s well taken care of,” said Hill.

It’s not the first time Sayer has worked with SAS students on the salmon. He explained the sculpture was created more than two decades ago at the former JL Jackson site where he helped students transform a heavy cedar log brought in from Kitwanga into a work of art.

“It was our project and we just took kids and taught them to do this,” said Sayer, who worked in the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District for more than 20 years. “Once we finished the fish, it went to all the elementary schools in the district and the kids did a little play about the salmon.”

Sayer said the carving was gifted to the city on behalf of the late Dr. Mary Thomas, for the work she did on the Salmon River to bring back salmon.

The sculpture was placed on the breakwater at the end of the Marine Park wharf, where Sayer said it stayed for about 14-15 years before it was washed off its mooring during high water and floated out into the lake. He said city staff were able to retrieve the sculpture and brought it up to the public works yard.

“They were advertising, trying to find who owned it or who made it,” said Sayer. “They got a hold of me and asked, what do you want to do with it? I said it started out at SAS, it should go back to SAS…

“I’m pretty proud to have the art piece brought back, and the story – it was built here so it has returned home, like the salmon.”

Sayer said the students who originally worked on the salmon now have kids of their own attending the school.

“Their children now come to the school so they have to drive by the fish that their parents made,” said Sayer. “So now these kids here will be able to say they worked on it too. It’s kind of a legacy and it’s an opportunity to join the communities.”

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Katelind Pruden, one of the students working to restore the sculpture, said it feels nice to be leaving something behind at the school.

“I’ll have a little bit of an imprint at the school as long as this fish is here,” said Pruden.

“It’s nice to restore something that was for the community, to be a part of that,” added Kayden Rufus.

Hill said the Salmon Arm Métis Association donated funding from the sale of Orange shirts towards the restoration.

When the work is finished, a plaque will eventually be added once again dedicating the sculpture to Mary Thomas.

“I’m working with some of the children of the students that John worked with to carve this,” said Hill. “The dedication to Mary Thomas is a super important piece to all of this. I believe the principal is going to do a plaque in honour of Dr. Mary Thomas, and the kids are learning a lot about Mary Thomas in their academic courses.”

Sayer continues to share his wood-carving skills with students at the Salmon Arm Storefront School.


lachlan@saobserver.net
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