A group of about 25 artists and activists gathered on Earth Day to listen to poetry and music against the backdrop of a new art show at Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna. While some sipped soup and picked at guitars, others studied art newly added to the studio’s south wall: a pastel drawing of salmon skeletons on rocks, leaves painted onto salmon skin, a watercolor painting.
The crowd convened for the opening of the studio’s latest art exhibit, featuring the work of Kasilof poet and artist Steve M. Schoonmaker. The show, called “Symbiotic Symphony: Alders and Salmon,” celebrates the symbiotic relationship between salmon and alders.
Schoonmaker on Friday described symbiosis as “the giving of self.” Creative outlets, he said, are one way he channels frustration about things that are bigger than him — symbiosis can be found over and over again in nature but is sometimes absent between humans.
“I look at our political system and so forth, as compared to symbiotic — the binary, dual party thing, the dualistic nature of the way humans view good, bad (and) evil,” Schoonmaker said. “I think to myself, wow, what an interesting contrast from symbiosis.”
In the show, Schoonmaker employs at least four different mediums, which he described as all “fit(ting) together” for him creatively.
“When I first started writing poetry, I could feel the metaphors and juxtapositions of things,” Schoonmaker said. “That contrast — I looked for that in my writing.”
“Salmon don’t have a voice,” Schoonmaker said. “They do through us … but they’re incredibly noble creatures, like nothing else, and if there’s ever a creature that needs to be defended, you know, it’s the salmon.”
Schoonmaker said his extensive experience fishing for salmon informs his familiarity with the fish.
“In Alaska, people know what salmon is, but they don’t really know what we’ve got or how easily we could lose it,” Schoonmaker said.
Through the show, Schoonmaker said he hopes to bring awareness about the way nature works together and to encourage people to be more symbiotic in their own relationships with each other and nature.
“We must question our perceptions of our place in this nature,” Schoonmaker says in his artist statement. “We must cautiously and actively respond to the growing threats to our riparian habitats now, today and tomorrow with life-saving awareness.”
Schoonmaker’s work will be displayed at Cook Inletkeeper throughout the summer. The Cook Inletkeeper Community Action Studio is located at 35911 Kenai Spur Highway, Unit 13 in Soldotna.