When local artist Kirby Scudder built a 23-foot salmon for the Ebb & Flow River Arts Project this past June, he decided to have a little fun before installing it. He and a few co-conspirators loaded the industrial-strength cardboard sculpture into an SUV and took it—as he puts it—“wherever I could find a place where it was completely out of context.” Those locations included various overpasses, a golf course and, perhaps most memorably, the emergency room at Dominican Hospital.
Kirby Scudder’s Ebb & Flow Salmon on Adventure
After turning some heads with the oversized fish, Scudder brought the sculpture to the Soquel Avenue Bridge, where four spotters held ropes that were tied to the salmon to keep it from falling into the river. Three more people helped Scudder glue the sculpture to the railing. “It took all eight of us to lift it over the railing,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Once he’d installed the piece, Scudder saw the salmon in a new light. “It’s funny—it looked huge when it was in my apartment, but when you get it on a big bridge like that, it didn’t look anywhere near as massive as it had in my apartment,” he comments. “Nature tends to really dwarf things.”
In his ten years as a Tannery resident, Scudder has heard a great deal of discussion about the history of the San Lorenzo River and its importance to this town. “One of the things I heard about was the loss of salmon over the years,” he says. “They’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to bring them back, which hasn’t gone as well as they’d initially thought, but there’s a whole team of people working on that. It’s a subject that we don’t talk very much about publicly: the loss of our indigenous fish in the river. Salmon fed the Ohlone who lived here for a long time, so it’s kind of an important part of our history.”
The salmon sculpture is one of many outdoor installations Scudder has constructed over the years. Another such piece was a 30-foot cow that he built approximately a year and a half ago to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Tannery since the opening of the arts center’s lofts. “I had to build it in three pieces, because there was no place indoors big enough for me to build it all together,” he notes.
70-80 mph winds eventually blew the top pieces of the cow away, but the remaining portion of the sculpture stayed up for another few months. Ultimately, some construction workers who were building the Tannery’s Colligan Theater told Scudder that the piece needed to be moved. “I asked them, ‘Can you guys do me a favor? If I have to get rid of this thing, let’s do it in an epic way,’” he explains. “So I had them take a crane and lift it 30 feet in the air and then had it do a nosedive into the dumpster.” Facebook viewers were soon treated to a slow-motion video of the cow plummeting to earth and exploding in the dumpster.
Cattle sculptures are a calling card of sorts for Scudder, who once built a five-foot cow to be raffled off at a fundraiser to help a local photographer pay for a brain tumor operation. As the sculptor recalls, that piece stood outside Logos Books & Records during the day and was equipped with wheels so that it could be rolled into the store at night. One evening when it was accidentally left out, some vandals made off with it, pushed it all over Pacific Avenue and eventually brought it to the front of The Catalyst, where they lit it on fire.
When a reporter from The Sentinel called Scudder for comments the next day, he refused to do an interview unless the fundraiser was the main focus of the article. The newspaper agreed to his terms, and thus an act of vandalism proved to be a blessing in disguise: because the Sentinel is on the Associated Press, the story went out across the nation. “All these people who knew this photographer had no idea she was suffering from this, and they all started sending her checks,” Scudder explains. “We thought with the raffle and everything, we’d be lucky to maybe get 5 grand. You know how much money we raised because of that burning cow? We raised, like, $36,000! It paid for all of her hospital bills, her medication and on and on.”
Scudder, who wrote a weekly column for the Sentinel for two years and conducted a weekly radio show at KUSP for eight years, earns a living by selling sponsorship for his series of posters depicting Santa Cruz, Capitola, Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and Palo Alto. His art is currently on display at the Radius Gallery, and he is in the process of creating a series of new abstract paintings for two exhibits that will take place in the spring.
For more information about Kirby, go to kirbyscudder.com.