by K.J. Lincoln
Jennifer Lent loves fish skin.
She has been using fish skin to create beautiful miniature baskets and her work is currently being featured at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center Museum in Bethel.
A weekend class on how to make creations from fish skin inspired Lent to continue making her own pieces. She and her family harvest their own fish and she tans the skins herself.
Her exhibit at the Yupiit Piciryarait Museum is entitled MINIM Miniature Fish Skin Baskets. We asked her a few questions about her artwork and her exhibit.
Where are you from?
I live with my husband, Chuck, and our 4 children in Fairbanks, but I work in Bethel. I am not originally from Alaska. I moved here 8 years ago.
How long have you been a Bethelite?
I have been a Bethelite for 4 years! I am a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) with the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation. I am also a full-time doctoral student at Texas Wesleyan University. I will graduate from the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program in 2018.
When did you take the fish basketry class that piqued your interest in creating fishskin pieces?
I was invited to participate in the first fish skin workshop in Bethel at the Cultural Center 3 years ago. It was led by Marlene Nielson (Yup’ik heritage) and Joel Isaak (Dena’ina Athabaskan heritage). Another great conference to which I was invited was the gutskin workshop.
Where do you obtain your material from?
Since moving to Alaska, my family and I spend part of every summer at fish camp on the Kenai Peninsula. My job is to fillet all of our salmon, so I get to choose the best skins for tanning while I am filleting. 🙂 I harvest and tan all of my own fish skins.
How many have you made so far, estimate?
I don’t think I could count them all! I have gifted some and sold some. I have been a featured artist at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center in Fairbanks. My fish skin baskets can also be found at the Aurora Fine Art Gallery in Anchorage and the Alaska House Art Gallery in Fairbanks.
Do you do other types of artistic creations?
Not sure how artistic you might think it is, but I’ve been told that my fur hats and fur mittens are quite lovely! I sew all of my fish skins and furs by hand.
What inspires you to continue with your fish skin basketry?
I am inspired by the past, the history of the art form. It would be a sad thing to see it completely die out. Although I am not a Native Alaskan, I can appreciate the deep sense of tradition that accompanies the process – from fish camp to finished baskets or bags. I enjoy teaching others what I have learned and passing on what knowledge I can. I have taught a couple of fish skin workshops at the Fairbanks Folk School in Fairbanks.
Congratulations on your art show, how is it like to have your very own exhibit?
It’s very exciting for me to see my work as the main focus of a show! I never imagined that would happen. The community in Bethel is very supportive of all of their artists, but a special Quyana! goes to Reyne Athanas and Eva Malvich!
Lent’s MINIM Miniature Fish Skin Baskets exhibit will be open through August 2017.