“I think spearfishing has actually saved my life,” says glass artist Edward Clark, whose Orvis Artist in the Museum installation Spearfishing Omilu Ulua is taking shape in the Spalding House Surface Gallery through Feb. 21. From eradicating his back problems and clearing his head, to inspiring and informing his work, Clark says, “spearfishing combines loves I’ve had all my life all into one place. And now it feeds my kids, too.”

As in many of his projects, Clark’s degrees in marine biology, ecology, and sculpture all come into play in his installation, as he has transformed the Surface Gallery into a living fishing village, complete with a pier, lure-making stations, and—in a nod to the upcoming exhibition Plastic Fantastic?—even some real-life ocean debris. At every station, Clark has infused glass works into the experience.

The work he has put into it is exacting. For example, when he made glass dive weights for a wearable belt, they had to be a realistic weight; and after months of mixing materials, he got the small pieces to a standard two-pound weight each. He also has a glass dive knife, glass floats that connect to spear tag lines, and has learned to fashion three-prong spears from glassmaking blowpipes. The line between artistry and utility blurs further as Clark describes each of his innovations, down to the very colors used to camouflage his floats to match the coloration of the ulua being pursued.

You can be a part of his ocean world on weekends, during museum hours. Enter the Surface Gallery and his daughter might approach you with a basket of glass creatures, telling you to pick one and place it within the seascape. “People are getting to look and make choices, and sometimes handle some of the pieces of glass,” explains Clark. “And then we have hardware that allows you to mix and match. The reef and the schools of fishes are changing with what the people want to see in certain spots. So during one day it might be up there, and the next day somebody might move it. So in that sense it’s going to be evolving.”

Of course, as Clark points out, some fishing equipment was historically made of glass. “Some Japanese fishing boats still have glass shops on them, to make floats at sea,” he adds. And in art, glassmakers have drawn upon aquatic themes for centuries. “Dale Chihuly is most famous for his sea forms from the ocean theme, which are modifications off the Venini glass factory’s handkerchief vases; he worked there when he was in Murano, Venice.”

Clark knows a thing or two about the glass master Chihuly—after high school, Clark moved from New Jersey to Washington for college, and then worked in and around Seattle’s glass industry. “I worked in Tacoma a lot, and actually fixed Dale’s boathouse at some point during the winter, where they build his glass right there in Seattle these days.”

Left: Fishing floats in the surface gallery. Right: Edward Clark in his glass weight belt, showing off a glass lure.

Left: Fishing floats in the Surface Gallery. Right: Edward Clark in his glass weight belt, showing off a glass lure.

And while he has the brains needed to pull off his exhibition’s ambitious goals, not to mention brawn needed to heft large glassworks, he hasn’t yet landed the Orvis installation’s namesake omilu, or bluefin trevally. “The omilu was chosen not only for its coloration, but its size,” Clark says. “It’s about a meter, and that’s pretty much the maximum I can physically do with the equipment we have on this island at the moment. But that will be the highlight.”

So far, Clark and his collaborators have finished preliminary work creating color patterns from small shards of colored glass for the omilu’s shimmering blue color on smaller scale models—but haven’t created the full size fish yet. With his intense stare, chin curtain beard, and love of spearfishing, Clark is like a modern Ahab chasing his Moby-Dick. When he does make a big glass omilu in the coming weeks, it will represent the culmination of a long journey, and he hopes to pass on the things he’s learned along the way.

“Originally I was coming at it from like spearfishing is the only sustainably fishery,” Clark says. “What I didn’t anticipate were the people that would come to visit.” Many people with an interest in fishing have been lured to the installation.

Those visitors have led him to continue thinking through the “parallels of using the art and sculpture in a real functionality of the world.” Clark is convinced that glass is the ideal medium by which to navigate that exploration. “I have this thought that glass is the strongest sculptural material. It’s also the oldest material, and it’s the most stable; it’s not rusting or losing a Sphinx nose, and you can combine all the most important elements, from gold, to copper and all metal oxides, and if it breaks you can put it back together. No other material can behave like that.”

Check out the glass spearfishing action that went into the exhibition:

A video posted by @glassartshawaii on

Find out when to visit Edward Clark at Spalding House here.