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"Fish Worship: Is It Wrong?"
Friday Night Insight Series Host Ray Troll
Defends the Practice of Fish Worship
By Sharon Lint


February 26, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Last night's Friday Night Insight was held at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. It offered a presentation by Ray Troll entitled, "Fish Worship: Is it Wrong?" The residents of Ketchikan who are familiar with Ray's artwork expected an irreverent, humorous, divine production. They were not disappointed.

Ray began where all beginnings should - at the start of life. Born in 1954 as one of six Air Force brats, the first picture displayed six children sitting on the front steps of a house. "I'm this character right there. I'm that tough lookin' little punk in the Cub Scout shirt," he told the audience, adding, "and these are my siblings all around me and we're sitting on our grandparent's front porch in Corning, New York."

jpg Fish Worship - Ray Troll

Ray Troll signs one of his books after presenting the fishy details
of his offbeat career in the world of art and science.
Photo by Carl Thompson ©2005

The next photo he described as "The most embarrassing picture ever taken in my life." A Kodak moment taken in 1964 in Middletown, Pennsylvania, Ray is shown in a Halloween outfit he made himself. "I actually walked around the neighborhood dressed like this," he confessed, pointing out that the cardboard box that covered his ten-year-old body had some of his earliest attempts at art. With a droll grin, he directed all eyes to the evidence of his burgeoning talent; crude knobs drawn with the labels of yes, no, on and off.

Apparently, because of this talent emerging at such a youthful age, he followed art into college. His undergraduate experience took place at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. Ray earned a Bachelor of Arts degree there in 1977. He obtained his MFA in studio arts from Washington State University later in 1981. He also starred in the band Zuzu and the Robot Slave Boys during those years. "We were fabulous. . . " he said with a laugh.

Moving on, he told the audience, "In 1983, I moved here to Ketchikan. . . Kate said, 'Come on up and visit Ketchikan . . . why don't you work up here for the summer? We're going to start a little seafood stand down here on the docks and sell fresh seafood.' . . . so I came up here to be a dock vendor for the summer."

Disclosing that the scaled creatures he encountered as a result fascinated the artist in him. He began to go sport fishing and to catch some of the strange-looking life forms. Presenting the photo of a Red Snapper, he explained that as an artist, they were "phenomenally cool fish."

Expanding on the beginnings of his Fish Worship, he said, "Fish had already been showing up in my artwork before I got here, but I landed in Fish Paradise. . . I actually worked in the slime line that first fall . . . and I started doing t-shirts and it began to kind of take off . . ."

In 1984, in exchange for the painting of a mural on the side of Silver Lining Seafoods, he received studio space in the upper level of the building. This allowed him to feed his fishy fascination without any kind of restriction.

Up-close contact with some of the larger monsters from the deep led to artwork such as "The Avenging Halibut," "Kickin' Butt," and "Something Fishy Going On." His first exhibit was in Ketchikan at Kathy Johnson's Gallery at #28 Creek Street.

He lived on the waterfront and on Ketchikan Creek for a while and became absorbed by the decayed salmon as they washed up on the rocks of his Harris Street backyard. As a result, he was inspired to create "Humpies from Hell." Ray described his subjects as "these nasty-looking, narly-looking beasts who go through this incredible transformation [from] silvery, beautiful fish . . . all to reproduce. . ."

He produced what some consider his best t-shirt, "Spawn Til You Die," in 1987. It was the same year that he and his wife, Michelle had their first child.

He chucked a bit as he explained, ". . . so, spawning was definitely on my mind." As the audience laughed, he continued, "What's kind of fun about this is that I do spot this every now and then in movies, and it's usually a bad guy that's wearing one of those . . . or a seriously disturbed guy."

As examples, he cited the film, 'Chelsea Walls' (2001) which stars Uma Thurman and is directed by Ethan Hawke. Ray informed the crowd that the movie has a crazy guy who is always wearing the Spawn t-shirt. Ray also said he was recently informed that the TV show "Lost" has a character who wears one of his Humpie t-shirts.

One of his larger works includes a mural he painted at North Point Higgins. He titled it "Midnight Run.". It is the first work he did as part of the One Percent For Art Program. All five species of Pacific Salmon are in it.

Speaking of the program with enthusiasm, Ray explained, "One percent of state monies go toward public buildings in the state that by law are supposed to be spent on art and we've got some wonderful pieces of artwork out of that in the state and this is one really one of the things that really helped my career," he said. "I was actually able to quit my day job when I got the commission to do this painting. . ."

Another painting he did as a result of the One Percent For Art Program hangs in the lobby of Kayhi. The Ketchikan High School mascot is the King Salmon so he named the piece, "The Ketchikan Kings." Sixty-eight blocks containing Kings of some kind are the backdrop for a gigantic King Salmon. He spent virtually all of 1988 painting it, and when he put it up in the High School, he approached the PTA with his idea to get the kids involved in exploring the artwork.

The proposal was approved. So, approaching businesses, Ray raised approximately $3,000 in donations for a scholarship that would go to the student who could name the most Kings in the painting. The winner was able to correctly identify 56 of them, although the student didn't recognize the most obscure one, a trilobite by the name of Elrathia kingi.

Being around native culture has also influenced some of Ray's art. He befriended Israel Shotridge which ultimately led to Ray's poster showcasing the Chief Johnson Totem Pole.

More tomorrow on Sitnews. . .


On the Web:

Troll Art


Sharon Lint is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Sharon at sharon(AT)
Sharon Lint ©2005

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