When I first heard that our September Artist of the Month, ceramics artist Allen Moe, uses roadkill to create his art, I admit that I was a little hesitant. Fast forward to seeing his artwork and I can say that I am thoroughly sold! I was curious as to how Allen discovered this unique art form. Since high school he’s been into making pots and while he was homesteading in Alaska in his 20’s he worked out the technology for hand-building pots and firing them with a campfire…a technique he uses to this day. They were living a subsistence life and developing skin technology for their own use, and he found himself stitching caribou skin onto the fired pots, appreciating how the skin dried tight like a drum, emphasizing the form. They caught fish to feed the dogs and Allen related that he “hated to see the dogs mindlessly gobbling up these beautiful, red-spotted Arctic char” so he began stitching them onto pots just to save them and discovered that by isolating those skins in another context you really looked at them and appreciated their beauty. “That is the essence of all my work – isolating bits of nature in another context so you can see them as if for the first time.”
After receiving his BA in ecology at UC Berkeley in 1970, Allen spent ten years working seasonally as a park ranger in Alaska’s Denali National Park and as a seabird ecologist in the Gulf of Alaska. Living in the bush and being influenced by Eskimo culture, he became familiar with processing skins. Down here in the lower 48 he makes and fires his pots when he’s out camping, improving his firing technology with cow dung and obtaining his skins from roadkill and grocery stores, especially those in Asian grocery stores with tripe, chicken feet, and weird fish.
How did Allen get from the Alaska bush to Guemes Island? It all happened 40 years ago when he landed on Guemes at the end of a kayak trip south from Prince Rupert. “Needing a place to sell my kayak so I could buy a bicycle and continue my trip south, I looked up a friend’s brother who lived on the island with his family and have pretty much stuck around ever since, using Guemes as a home base studio for my rather nomadic life of camping and traveling around the west.”
This nomadic lifestyle eventually led to extensive camping in the southwest deserts which got him interested in geology, in particular “the super old rocks of the Mojave Desert which were sometimes these perfect registrations of earth surfaces millions of years old – mud cracks, sea floors. It led me into making prints of the present-day earth surface focusing mainly on patterns of accumulation and disintegration.”
Alan explained that “I use silicone caulking or plaster to make molds to make negatives into which I later pour modified cement to make positives. A process much like photography although instead of recording light I am recording physical presence. Again, taking things out of nature that we tend to ignore and putting them up on a wall where we might actually look at them.” He sees them as a kind of Braille, a textural registration of beauty and information.
This is the main focus of his work right now and he’s presently involved with making castings of the rolled-up balls of seaweed that are starting to wash up onto our beaches and kayaking out to Lummi to cast the debris of shells and barnacles left from last year’s massive die-off when extremely low tides corresponded with unprecedented heat. Alan sees them “as a geologic record of climate change.”
Allen’s artwork is represented by Smith and Vallee Gallery and his paintings by i.e. Gallery, both in Edison, Washington.