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Apayo Art: Inspired by salmon

Growing up in Dillingham and in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, Apayo Moore found love in arts and craft with a culture and family deeply rooted in salmon.

“When we were small, my family (aunts, uncles, cousins, mom) would make crafts that my grandma would bring to Anchorage to sell at Alaska Federation of Natives, the hospitals, and wherever else she could pull them out in business offices to peddle. I remember always being welcome to join in craft making. Even if it was making strings of boring necklaces and bracelets that didn’t match. For fun we would make beaded jewelry and to encourage us, my grandma would add things that we made to the collection of things to sell. She carried several different envelopes to put each persons money in as an accounting system,” Moore said.

Beginning with crafts, Moore spent her formative years discovering new artistic mediums when she found painting to be the most efficient way to express herself.

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Family and salmon have been integral in Apayo Moore's life. Photo credit: Apayo Moore

“As a young child, my artistic talent wasn’t focused. Started school and did the usual art projects. My dad noticed that I was ahead of the game with my drawing talent when I was 5. From there they encouraged drawing, but crafts were always a large part of my life in play,” Moore said. “I also took home economics and we had sewing projects that helped foster visualization and building skill for symmetry and pattern. I also took wood shop, which I believe helped me on an artistic level as well. And of course, our high school art class, that covered ceramics, painting, drawing and the basics. By the time I got to college, painting was the most sensible way to affordably practice the sale of my “craft.” It had the least amount of tools and art was quick to produce. So my background with art, in short, is it has always been a part of my life in vocational skill, as someone who was taught to live in rural Alaska.”

In rural Alaska, Moore’s family sustained their life on salmon through commercial fishing in Bristol Bay.

“Salmon were the main means of income for my family, all around. My aunts, uncles, grandparents, and parents all commercial fished. I myself was raised partially on my dad’s fishing boat. If my time on the boat was limited to just weeks out of the year, the profoundness of those short weeks made more of a difference in my character than several months throughout the rest of the year, for sure,” Moore said.

Moore’s grandmother was in charge of the family’s subsistence catch, where she would gather salmon from their cabin on the Wood River. Moore spent a part of her summers with her grandparents at the cabin, a highlight in Moore’s life.

“I remember my dad helping her to get set up and when we would spend portions of our summers with her. My papa was in charge of shooting the “bear gun.” It was a highlight (for the kids at least) to see the bears. Of course, our grandparents dreaded losing all that work to bears, when they did succeed in breaking into the smoke house or drying rack. I had very minimal subsistence harvesting experience until after college, but have always been the beneficiary of eating the salmon throughout the winter through my grandma’s subsistence,” Moore said.

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Apayo Moore is inspired by salmon and the role it plays in her family and culture.
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Later in life, Moore joined the family business and commercial drift fished with her father for several summers. She also commercial set net fished in Ekuk, AK for a number of years.

After college, Moore worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as a salmon tower technician. She counted the salmon that went up the river, determining the escapement of the salmon that commercial fishing openers are based off of.

“That job taught me a more scientific standpoint of the salmon in our region.”

More had gained the experience and knowledge that equipped her to work as the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Nunamta Aulukestai, Caretakers of our Land. In this position, Moore was able to familiarize herself with the Pebble Mine project and inform the public on the threat the project had to the subsistence lifestyle of those in the Bristol Bay area.

“Then later in college, I really dove into the the heart of why salmon are important by combining everything that I knew and felt about them,” Moore said. “It was my job to inform the public why it was a bad idea and it’s threat to our subsistence lifestyle, and especially the devastation it would cause to our dependence on salmon through the impacts it would pose to salmon habitat and rearing streams. This job changed my life and how I express myself in a meaningful way, for sure.”

Today, Moore is digging deeper into her roots and learning more about subsistence and traditional ways of handling salmon.

“I have spent the last couple of years learning about how to process my own salmon through subsistence, learned my mom’s way of putting up fish for smoking, canning and filleting for the freezer fish,” Moore said.

Moore is fortunate enough to have multiple perspectives on the fish that has shaped her art and her life. From the scientific perspective to the meaning of the salmon in the wintertime in rural Alaska, Moore has intention and heart that is evident in her art.

“Salmon mean more to me than the literal term, salmon. This reflection is based on years of self analyzing and observation of my own behavior and thoughts through each salmon experience, as well as what I’ve witnessed and experienced with my peers. I definitely credit the fight against Pebble Mine as a turning point in the way my self-expression through art has evolved to what it is today,” Moore said.

Moore currently resides in Aleknagik, AK. One can find Moore painting, making originally designed t-shirts, working on murals and taking graphic design commissions, as well as taking on many other forms of arts and crafts.

Moore’s work and contact information is best displayed on her website, apayoart.com.

Written by Victoria Petersen

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