This weekend: Leaping Trout Art Project auction in Phoenicia

Above: Leaping trout grace the walls of the Arts Upstairs Gallery in Phoenicia. Photo by Mark Loete Photography.

If there are any Catskills creatures whose iconic status is beyond all doubt, the leaping trout and the working artist are two such. This Saturday, December 8, in Phoenicia, there will be an auction celebrating both -- and the proceeds will all go toward education and outreach on behalf of the watershed.

Leave it to the clever souls of the Ashokan Pepacton Watershed Chapter of Trout Unlimited to unite these two classics for the benefit of all concerned. Originally conceived after a member on a fishing trip to Alaska saw a simliar project done with salmon, the Leaping Trout Art Project happened for the first time in 2010. It’s back, and bigger than before.

“The reason this is a success,” says project coordinator Mark Loete, himself a photographer and fisherman, “is because it speaks to such a wide range of watershed stakeholders. Anglers, artists, conservationists, historians, tourists, the business community -- there are a lot of all of the above, and there’s a lot of cross-pollination. And we spread the understanding that what’s good for the trout -- clean water, regular flows, and stable bank forms -- is good for the people, whether they’re up here or down in Manhattan drinking water.”

Three-foot-long fish-shaped blanks of 12-gauge aluminum were distributed to contributing artists last April. By August, they were reeled back in and being displayed at 34 area venues. In November, they ventured back upstream, and were collected into Phoenicia’s Arts Upstairs Gallery, where they can now be viewed in all of their diverse glory.

Even the most devoted practitioner of that ephemeral outdoor folk art known as flyfishing has never seen leaping trout quite like these. Word of the project has spread quickly among the local arts community.

"Besides our core group, some of whom are quite well known, I had artists coming up to me on the street asking if they could get involved,” says Loete. “We went from 27 in 2010 to 35 this time, and I have a list of 18 more artists who’d like to get involved.”

Artists were free to do whatever inspired them, and the results embrace acrylics, oils, sculpture, mosaics, feathers, appliqué and much more.

The trout can be viewed (and bid on) on the Leaping Trout Art Project website. Online bidding closes Friday night at midnight, after which the high bids become the opening bids for Saturday’s live auction at the Arts Upstairs Gallery. From 5pm to 6:30pm, there will be a reception and viewing for the artworks; from 6:30pm to 8pm, the bidding will be underway, presided over by auctioneer extraordinaire Jay Werbalowsky. If the price for your favorite original should soar beyond your limit, have no fear -- you can own a giclée print of your fave fish instead.

But do note that this may be the last year you’ll have a chance.

“I’m thinking a soaring eagle or a bear might be fun to try next time,” says Loete.

Auction runs from 5pm to 8pm, Saturday, December 8 at the Arts Upstairs Gallery at 60 Main Street in Phoenicia. Online bidding on the Leaping Trout Art Project website ends at midnight on Friday, December 7.

Below: Leaping Aluminum Trout by Phoenicia sculptor Dakin Moorehouse. Photo from Leaping Trout Art Project website.