Fish Skin Crafting and Commercial Fishing Alaska with Ivy O’Guinn

Ivy O’Guinn is an Alaskan woman of many talents, she is a commercial fisher, a high school track coach, a fly fishing guide, and a taxidermist. (What doesn’t this awesome gal do?!) She is an Aleut, Alaskan native. Read below to learn more about Ivy’s fish skin crafting, commercial fishing, and artistic interests.

Tell us about your artistic background – how did you become interested in art?

Growing up in a small Alaskan village exposed me to some awesome artwork. Before I was old enough to fish, I would spend time at the community center with other kids and do arts and crafts. That experience gave me an interest later on in pursuing Alaska native art. I can be quite a hobbyist and when I get into an art project or idea, I go with it. I’ve dwindled in wood carving, jewelry making, and as of late fish skin crafting!

How did you start fish skin crafting?

As a commercial fisherwoman, using the entire fish to its fullest is very important to me. I’d heard about people turning fish skin into art and I thought it sounded intriguing. I started talking to different people and researching how to fish skin craft. I came across a European book that was super informational. I actually used a translator online to read it, and it helped me to learn the dynamics of the art. It has been very rewarding to use salmon skin to create unique and beautiful art.

When did you begin crafting with fish skin?

During COVID I had some extra time and I decided to play with using fish skin for different things. I tried using a fish brain tanning method, but it was pretty complex to get the brains out of all the fish. I found that egg yolk and vegetable oils had the same protein as the brain material. It worked well and I feel like I have it down fairly well. I’ve made earrings, baskets, and am currently upholstering some cowboy boots with king salmon skin.

How has fishing played a role in your life so far?

Fishing has always been in my life, I grew up around it in Bristol Bay and now I live near one of the most popular rivers in Alaska (Kenai River). I still spend around 4 months in Bristol Bay commercial fishing, but I love coming back and fly fishing for steelhead. I think fishing will always be a special part of my life, there is just something about being outdoors in such a beautiful place.

Do you see yourself commercial fishing for years to come?

That’s a good question… I think commercial fishing is similar to farming. You’re investing in a resource and you just have to hope it’s done sustainably and will continue to be good in the future. It’s just something you can’t bet on being good, but I really enjoy it. Bristol Bay has been a second home for me since I was a baby and it’s definitely special to me.

What is your favorite part about fishing in Alaska?

Fishing in Alaska is so special and I love the variety it brings. Fishing for salmon in Bristol Bay is such a different experience from fishing for trout on the Kenai River. The landscape also alters so much here, certain places are rolling tundra while others have huge mountains and trees. As someone who doesn’t sit still very often, Alaska is the perfect playground for fishing and more.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue art in the outdoor/ fishing space?

Get creative, so many odd materials and items can be used to create useful art. Talking to people that are very wise in their art form is a great way to learn more about it. I think the best part about art is that you can make it how you want, there are no restrictions to your creativity. If you want to stick some salmon skin on cowboy boots or a plant pot, go for it!

Follow Ivy on Instagram @ivyo for more awesome Alaskan content 🙂

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