25 Sep “Pacific Fisher” – Art on Ashland’s Bandersnatch Trail
Learn how it was made, step by step
Why is it named “Marty?”
Artist: Jeremy Criswell
Ashland Public Art series
When I first saw the Pacific Fisher sculpture
My wife and I first saw the “Pacific Fisher” sculpture on the Bandersnatch trail in July 2020. As I climbed the hill and saw the front of the mosaic sculpture, I thought, “This is beautiful.” If you are not familiar with Bandersnatch trail, see detailed instructions for finding it at the end of this article.
When I walked around to the back of the piece, then came the “Wow!” I immediately wanted to learn what a Pacific fisher is and about the artist Jeremy Criswell. This article shares with you what I have learned.
Jeremy’s artistic journey
When I asked Jeremy how he started making art, he laughed and told me “As a kid, I was sure I was not an artist. I couldn’t draw. But my grandpa was a potter. So when I got to RCC [Rogue Community College], I took a pottery [ceramics] class. I was fortunate that it was taught by Tom Wilson, who introduced me to sculpture and was an early inspiration for me.”
This began his process of opening up to what he called “exploring and playing a lot.” His mind opened up to the natural creativity within him. He writes in his Bio: “With ceramics as my anchor, I began to explore other art forms. Painting, sculpture, woodworking, carpentry, and welding all found their way into my life.”
He studied art and ceramics at Humboldt State University for five years, then moved back to Oregon in 2006. He currently makes art in his home studio in the Applegate Valley. He wrote, “I created a space that supports all forms of my artwork, from tile and cement sculpture, to pottery, welding, and woodwork. My primary focus is on art for public enjoyment.”
When he is not making art, you will find Criswell in his fourth year of teaching at Madrone Trail school, a Waldorf-inspired public charter school in Central Point.
Jeremy Criswell’s mentor
Criswell met Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg when they were in their 80s and still creating public art projects for placement in Oregon and beyond. He and Lilli Ann clicked from the start, and he was her assistant from 2007 until her death in 2011.
“Everything I know about mosaics I learned from her [Lilli Ann Rosenberg],” Jeremy told me. “For a number of years, I was her assistant. I was her eyes and hands in many ways. My work is incredibly influenced by her. The things that she held important, they became such a part of me … if anything, I think I honor her when I work.”
The photo above shows Jeremy’s first mosaic sculpture, made in 2008, which he described as “sort of a self-portrait.” He said: “This was a joyous moment for Lilli Ann and Marvin” because they could see that “what they shared was coming to life in me.”
Lilli Ann had created public art nationally for decades before she and Marvin moved to the Rogue Valley around 1990. In the Rogue Valley, the Rosenberg’s are most known for their incredible ability to engage with people in the community and for their mosaic artworks at many La Clinica buildings.
In 1978, Lilli Ann’s created what may be her most dramatic piece. It is a 12-ton, 110’ mosaic tile mural installed at America’s oldest subway station – the 1897 Park Street station in Boston.
The Watershed Art Group
The Pacific Fisher sculpture exists because Stef Seffinger, Pam Marsh and Sue Springer formed the “Watershed Art Group” to place public art along a trail above Lithia Park. Their goal — to bring attention to the importance of the watershed. They received support from the City of Ashland Public Arts Commission, with funding primarily from the Haines & Friends art fund.
They put out a call for artists to propose ideas for a sculpture of a Pacific fisher, an important but little known animal in the Ashland Watershed. When Jeremy began his creative process, he had an idea to include leaves picked in the watershed as part of the design. Criswell’s mosaic design was chosen for this public art commission.
How the “Pacific Fisher” sculpture was made
The first step was design. Jeremy fine-tuned the design he had presented to the Watershed Art Group. Since he makes his own ceramic mosaic pieces, he visualized the colors, textures, shapes and sizes of the mosaic pieces for Pacific Fisher. Then he hand-made all the striped quarter moon tiles for the front side of the piece and the round green tiles for the back side. The glass tiles he used on the back side are hand-made Italian glass.
He cut out the exact shape and size of the sculpture in 2” thick Styrofoam. You can see in the photo below how he laid out his mosaic design.
The Pacific fisher was built flat on his large work table. Jeremy began with a huge slab of clay about 1” thick, laid out on the table. The Styrofoam cutout of the Pacific fisher shape was laid on the clay for a mold and held firmly in place.
He pressed the design of glass and ceramic mosaic pieces for the back side of the Pacific fisher into the soft clay, using gentle taps so the pieces would stay put but not sink into the clay. Each of the hundreds of pieces needed to be exactly where he wanted it. Once the mosaic pieces were in concrete, there was no going back!
About half of the concrete (1” thick) was carefully poured into the mold so it would not move any of the small pieces that were pressed into the underlying clay.
As the cement dried, it “grabbed” the glass and ceramic mosaic pieces. When the cement was lifted off, the mosaic pieces remained attached to the cement.
After the first half of the concrete was poured in the mold, rebar armature was added for strength and for attaching the piece to its base.
The second half of the concrete was poured, making the sculpture about 2” thick. While this concrete was moist, the quarter-moon shaped brown ceramic pieces on the other side of the Pacific fisher were placed directly into it. As I listened to Jeremy describe this, I started to get worried the cement would dry before he could apply all 140 or so mosaic pieces exactly where he wanted them. He laughed and told me, “You always have enough time. I used to get very, very frantic and Lilli Ann would tell me it would work.” (Back when he was her apprentice and assistant.)
Working on his own a few years later, he once again would start to get frantic at this point in the process. Eventually he learned a routine to calm himself. “I would mix the cement, and while it was sitting in the wheelbarrow, I would go make a cup of coffee, just to remind myself that I had enough time.” When he told me there was a three-hour time period to work within before the cement dried, I was able to relax.
“Real” leaves on the base
The base concrete was formed without a mold, using expanded metal lath as the structure. After hand-forming the base from thick wet concrete in and around the metal lath, he tapped the leaf ceramics into place before it dried.
The ceramic leaves on the base had been created from fresh leaves Jeremy collected in the Ashland watershed. The multi-step process began by pressing the leaves into fresh clay and applying dark glaze around them. After carefully removing the leaves to preserve some detail such as the leaf veins, he fired the clay for the first time. Using a sponge, he then applied multiple colors of glaze to the individual leaves and fired the clay for a second time.
Introduced to the public in June 2015
The Watershed Art Group introduced Criswell’s Pacific Fisher to the public during Ashland’s June 2015 Earth Day celebration, held at ScienceWorks Museum. Then it was on display at the Ashland Library until its October dedication on the Bandersnatch trail. There was even a contest to name the mosaic statue.
Dedication in October 2015
About 40 people attended the dedication of Pacific Fisher on the trail October 9, 2015. People toasted the first sculpture on this new “Art Walk” with sparkling cider and cookies in the shape of Pacific fishers. Dave Clayton, a wildlife biologist who has studied Pacific fishers, spoke about their role in the ecosystem.
Why is it named “Marty?”
At the sculpture’s dedication, Ashland City Councilor Stef Seffinger explained why this Pacific Fisher is named “Marty.” It honors Southern Oregon forester and ecosystem restoration expert Marty Main.
Seffinger added: “This is somebody who has spent over 30 years working in this forest, who has spent his life educating and making sure that creatures in the forest continue to have a home. That the trees in the forest continue to be healthy. He’s one of the most generous and most wonderful men I know. Thank you, Marty.”
Marty Main has been a consultant to the Forest Lands Commission since 1995, and he is widely respected in the community. Unknown to Main, several people from the City of Ashland Forest Lands Commission nominated the name “Marty.” He attended the dedication ceremony not knowing the sculpture would be named for him. He told me, “They surprised me. I was embarrassed.”
What is a Pacific fisher?
I asked Marty Main to tell me a little about the Pacific fisher. He explained that they are in the same family as weasels, and are about the size of a house cat. They are now rare on the West Coast, and a healthy, growing population of Pacific fishers in the Ashland watershed is a sign of ecosystem health in our watershed.
Throughout Oregon and North America, the population of Pacific fishers was decimated by the fur trade in the late 1800s, the use of powerful poisons at illegal marijuana grows in federal forests for decades (thankfully fewer since the legalization of marijuana) and the loss of old growth habitat. Pacific fishers nest and rest in large, older trees. They are nocturnal, so they are not very visible.
What do they eat? Fish, of course…NO, not fish. Their unusual common name is thought to come from the word fiche (or fichet, or fitch, or fitchet), an old term for the pelt of a European polecat, a related animal that 19th century fur trappers were familiar with.
They actually eat small mammals like mice, squirrels, rabbits, and one that’s a surprise…porcupines! Marty Main told me, “They are one of the few animals that eat porcupines. They have learned to flip porcupines over to get to the soft belly. They are unique that way.”
How to find the sculpture on the Bandersnatch trail
Just above Lithia Park, the Bandersnatch trail is one of the easiest Ashland trails to access. It begins near the swimming hole on Ashland Creek. If you are driving or biking, take Granite Street south to the swimming hole, then turn left on Glenview Drive.
After a short distance, you’ll see a parking area on the right that can accommodate about eight cars, followed by a larger parking area on the left. If you are in a car, park here.
Near the smaller parking area is a sign that says, “Waterline Trail” and “To Bandersnatch Trail 820′.”
Keep an eye out for mountain bikers zooming by in this section of the trail because this section is a multi-use trail. When you reach the Bandersnatch trail, it will be only for pedestrians and equestrians.
You’ll know you are heading the right way if you pass this gate and sign.
You will reach the Elevation sculpture about 1/10 of a mile from the parking lot, while you are still on the Waterline trail. Next to Elevation is another sign pointing to the beginning of the Bandersnatch trail.
When you see the Bandersnatch trail sign, head uphill a short distance to see the other two sculptures on this art walk: Pacific Fisher and Water is Life.
Built in 2012 for walkers and equestrians, Bandersnatch trail is 1.7 miles long and intersects multiple trails, so you can hike in a loop or just go straight up and back.
Other art by Jeremy Criswell
This piece, now at La Clinica in Central Point, was the first artwork of Lilli Ann Rosenberg that Jeremy helped create. It is still very meaningful to him.
This tree mosaic Jeremy called “Tree of Living Things” was created in 2017 or 2018 when he was the artist in residence at Applegate School. Every one of the school’s 100 students was involved in creating the artwork. Each one drew an animal or plant, pressed the drawing into clay and then painted it. Jeremy incorporated all of these into the mosaic tree. Look closely to see similarities between his hand-made tiles used in this mosaic and the ones used in Pacific Fisher.
The tortoise at Cantrall Buckley County Park is one of Jeremy’s favorite pieces because of the way kids climb on it, interact with it and have fun with its colorful personality.
Finally, what is a Bandersnatch?
I don’t suppose it’s helpful to know that the Bandersnatch is found in the vicinity of the Jabberwock and the Jubjub bird. It might be more helpful to know that it occurs in the follow-up book to Alice in Wonderland, in which nearly everything is topsy turvy.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
Lewis Carroll, from the poem Jabberwocky in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
More articles about Ashland Public Art
“Elevation” – Art on the Bandersnatch Trail
Street Scene Sculpture: Who Are These People?
Ashland Public Art map
A map at the link below shows City of Ashland public art, from the city website. Photos of the art are by Graham Lewis.
Anon. “Pacific Fisher is One Cool Critter,” KS Wild website, accessed September 22, 2020.
Criswell, Jeremy. Interview and personal communications, August and September 2020. Jeremy graciously shared some of his personal photos with me.
Darling, John. “Watershed Art Trail: Elusive Pacific Fisher to have prominent spot,” Ashland Daily Tidings, April 21, 2015.
Darling, John. “Mural artist Lilli Ann Rosenberg leaves a lasting legacy,” Medford Mail Tribune, July 23, 2011.
Dickinson, Alec. “Ashland Watershed Art Trail inaugurated with unveiling of ‘Marty,’” Ashland Tidings, October 12, 2015.
Main, Marty. Interview, September 2020.
Marsh, Pam. Email communications, September 2020.
Seffinger, Stef. Interview and communications, August and September 2020.