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He always works on nature for Nanoose Bay glass artist Christopher Smith

Christopher Smith’s glass fish art creations have become a well-known sight in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area.

More recently some of its fish have appeared in the exhibition “The Tale of One Urban Creek” at McMillan Arts Center (MAC), which shows the history of one of the last local waterways that is home to salmon and trout populations and what it can do the community for help.

Smith came up with the idea for the exhibit earlier this year when he was in Shelly Creek Park near Hamilton to tag fish in the area with the Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society (MVHIES).

“The fact that the creek is now dry, just above where this park is, for the summer,” Smith said. “There will be no fresh water flowing into it, apart from the small spring that feeds it right there, until the first major rain event in the fall.”

He said much could be done to improve creek conditions and help salmon and trout survive. Smith said that if the upstream area were rehabilitated into wooded wetlands, it would provide a “sponge” that could soak up the water and feed it into Shelly Creek, and eventually into the Englishman River, in times of drought.

Smith has been working with glass for decades. He learned his craft during an apprenticeship in a glass studio in 1975, as well as a summer semester at Alberta College of Art, before he became known as ACAD. He opened a studio in Nanaimo in 1977 and moved to Lantzville in 1986. In 1991 he moved his studio to its current location behind his home on the edge of Nanoose Bay.

The glass fish concept was born around 2010. Each represents a significant amount of time, materials and effort.

Smith begins by sculpting a clay original, then layers of gypsum and silica onto the clay before applying a second layer of “jacket”. When this solidifies, he takes the clay out of the mold.

Then cut out a glass template that fits into the mold and adds the colors. Smith has to sculpt a new clay original every time because it is destroyed in the process.

The first cooking takes about a day.

Next, he puts the eyes of the fish and adds the fins and skin.

Then he puts the fish in the oven and cooks it for five days if it’s a red salmon, and seven days if it’s a spring salmon.

After cooking, the fish is pressure washed to remove all leftover plaster and then put back in the oven for another five to seven days.

Sculpting one of the clay pieces on your own can take up to six hours, Smith said. Excluding the cooking time, each takes three days of effort.

“The salmon really resonates with me,” Smith said. “And they really resonate with the local culture in a huge way.”

Although he worked in the commercial glass industry for years, when it came to his art, it was always about nature.

Smith recalled walking his dogs along the Englishman River and witnessing the Pink Run about a dozen years ago.

“There were pink salmon literally coming out of the water under the Top Bridge in the park,” he said. “The race was phenomenal. She really interested me in what was in the river and what was going on.

Smith has been involved with MVIHES and now sits on his board and participates in efforts such as tagging fish at Shelly Creek. He said it was important to remain optimistic.

“People say why bother, it’s all doom and gloom,” Smith said. “But if you take that approach and do nothing, then nothing is done.”

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