Bridgeville artist Michael Guerriero is crisscrossing 1,500 miles of mountain roads on a one-man-mission to raise awareness of issues affecting the Eel River and help students commemorate last year’s rebound of Chinook salmon.
The task will take him to schools in Willits, Round Valley and Leggett, as well as Fortuna, Ferndale, Hydesville, Carlotta and Bridgeville.
Children ages 10 to 18 will participate in 20 salmon drawing and screen printing workshops led by Guerriero, culminating in a show at the First Street Gallery in Eureka next April.
Hundreds of student-made screen-printed fish will be created, and integrated into a dozen canvas paintings Guerriero will make in his studio. The final result will be unveiled at the gallery, accompanied by educational displays about the state of the river and restoration efforts.
“The students will be curious to see how their colleagues have printed fish, and everyone can enjoy how the fish ultimately interact on the canvases. There are little stories embedded in the works being created,” he said.
An estimated 10,000 to 30,000 salmon spawned on the river last year, the highest since 1985-88 and possibly since the 1950s, according to a survey by the Friends of the Eel River.
“Like many rivers on the North Coast, this past year was exceptional for the return of salmon, because of ocean conditions and favorable water on the rivers for the past three years,” Guerriero said. “There’s evidence sections of the river are showing some restorative effects. This offers us optimism that our once strong runs of fish can be regenerated.”
Guerriero is known for his breathtaking serigraphs of the North Coast and as coordinator of Bridgeville’s funky flying saucer festival, Bridgefest, but he also has roots in student education and his feet in the river.
He has served on the board of the Friends of the Eel River for more than 10 years and is a former Bridgeville school board member. He has led art workshops in area schools and at public events for several years.
The idea for the project spawned from a workshop at Cuddeback School in Carlotta last year where students made fish stencils under Guerriero’s guidance, eventually silk screening layers of transparent colors to make sets of flags based on a slideshow of salmon that was projected on a wall.
“The students learned how screen printing works, cooperating with their colleagues as they shared each other’s stencils, and learned about their watershed,” he said. “The first thing a child wants to print is his own stencil, but then I ask them to use a neighbor’s stencil, which requires a measure of trust to relinquish, and incorporate someone else’s vision into their work.”
The Cuddeback workshop is serving as a blueprint for the series of workshops involving other schools this fall and winter.
While Guerriero is seeking grant support for his educational endeavor, a significant portion of funding for supplies and travel expenses will come from individuals. Supporters can donate by calling Guerriero at 777-3408 or give via a link on Guerriero’s website at www.mikegart.com.
The link includes a video in which Guerriero talks about the history of the river and his vision for the project while showing images from his student workshops. Premium pledge levels, in the form of prints, buttons and flag sets, are offered by the artist for donations.
“There’s a frenetic energy that takes over when the ink comes out and the kids get the process of printing while trying to design their work with all their friends and stencils involved,” Guerriero said in the video. “I get excited by the naive quality of the drawing. Even the simplest marks take on the meaning of swimming fish.”