A fishy inspiration: Havasu artist makes metal replicas of king salmon

April 1, 2019

A person can’t actually eat Skip Dove’s king salmon. Still, his fish are a feast for the eyes.

He crafts the salmon sculptures in his Kenai, Alaska art studio and sells them at various outlets in southern Alaska. When he and his wife Beverley return to their Lake Havasu City home each winter, Dove brings along a few finished sculptures to sell along the way.

A sample is hanging in the Kind Connection Smoke Shop at 911 N. Lake Havasu Ave. It retails for $385.

The sculpture is as sturdy as the price tag. Dove said the head, fins and tail of the salmon are the same size and shape as a 65-pound female king salmon. It’s not as long as the real deal, however.

“An actual 65-pound fish would be somewhere on the order of 40 inches long,” Dove said. “Mine are shorter than that.”

He knows the species well. Dove was a professional fishing guide on the Kenai River for 26 years, transporting guests on a 21-foot aluminum skiff. It was a great job when Alaska’s temperatures were mild. But when cold winter weather moved in, Dove had to store the boat and come up with another way to support his family.

“I was a full-blown potter for 25 years,” he said, pulling dinnerware out of his cupboard to show his handiwork. “I also sold decorative pieces.”

Retirement meant selling off his kilns and pottery equipment. But his studio was calling Dove’s name and his hands were itching to create something beautiful. He makes “Lucky Fishing Bracelets” from knotted cord that feature decorative fishing hooks. His wooden spreaders for dips are crafted from cat claw cactus, eucalyptus and manzanita.

That’s also when his idea for the salmon skeletons was born. He said actual fish skeletons helped him create the basic design.

“I was inspired by all the salmon skeletons I saw on the banks and gravel bars of the Kenai River. They’re everywhere,” he explained. “They spawn and they die.”

Dove uses rebar to form the spine and ribs of a fish sculpture. He bends them in various ways to differentiate one fish from another. The eye colors also vary among the fish.

“The rebar is clear-coated. I use mild steel for the other parts – the head is 3/8-inch steel and the fins are 18-gauge cold roll. It takes me about four hours to make one sculpture once the pieces are cut,” he said.

The metal salmon is heavy – about 10 pounds, he estimated. To mount it on a wall, the owner must use two screws inserted into a stud.

“I make an indoor version and an outdoor version. The outdoor ones are powder coated,” Dove said. A third type is an articulated mobile that sits atop a pole and can spin in the wind. His customers mount them on decks or near patios.

Dove and his wife of 50 years have wintered in Havasu for six years. They previously had a winter home in Phoenix. Picking up and moving further west was a quick and easy decision for the couple.

“We found out about Havasu, bought a house and that was that,” Dove smiled. He enjoys golfing, cruising Lake Havasu in the couple’s deck boat, entertaining and embracing Havasu’s casual lifestyle.

“It’s fun here, isn’t it? There lots of stuff to do – events, festivals – there’s always something going on and it’s a great atmosphere. I marvel every day at Havasu’s infrastructure – the parks, the beaches, everything,” he said.

The time is drawing near for the Doves to return to their lakeside home in Alaska. There are salmon sculptures to make, family to visit with and a daily parade of nature to watch.

“We have a copse of trees on our property where moose cows give birth in summer. It’s right in our own back yard. There are no dogs and it’s kind of private. We enjoy watching the young ones grow up. A cow has one or two babies at a time – typically two,” Dove said.

So while the mama moose is giving birth on one end of his property, Dove will be toiling away in his studio at the other end. He’ll tinker away, creating bracelets, wooden dip spreaders and salmon sculptures until fall. Then the days will turn cooler, signaling it’s time to pack up and return to Havasu.

Pam Ashley can be reached at 928-453-4237, ext. 230 or pashley@havasunews.com.