August 12, 2012

School master's garden art

Tyson Weiss, 'the fish guy,' has created thousands of highly prized steel and ceramic fish

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH – Tyson Weiss likes to make people flinch by pounding one of his beautiful but delicate-looking ceramic fish on a hard table surface.

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Three is the magic number for creating a visual sense of movement in the landscape, Weiss says. “One is a fish on a stick. Two is cute and romantic. Three gives you the flow,” he says.

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Tyson Weiss’ Falmouth yard holds some of his ceramic fish, which “swim” through the greenery, providing a fluid aesthetic.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

'FISH IN THE GARDEN'

TO VIEW Tyson Weiss' designs, go to www.fishinthegarden.net

WEISS ALSO has a Facebook page called "Fish in the Garden by Tyson M. Weiss" where he posts photos of current designs and looks for feedback on new glazes or new ideas.

STUDIO APPOINTMENTS are available by calling 797-2988.

FISH FINDER

YOU CAN ALSO meet Tyson Weiss and see his fish at several upcoming arts and crafts shows:

• SUNDAY -- 43rd Annual Cumberland Arts & Crafts Show at the Cumberland Fair Grounds, 197 Blanchard Road, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission $4

• AUG. 18-19 -- Maine Audubon Arts and Fine Craft Show, Gilsland Farm, 20 Gilsland Farm Road in Falmouth, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. $4 admission ($3 for members), children under 12 admitted free.

• SEPT. 8-9 -- Laudholm Nature Crafts Festival, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, 342 Laudholm Farm Road, Wells, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., admission $7 ($5 members).

The purpose is to show potential customers that even as his trout, salmon and koi swim gracefully through a bed of perennials, they are also a practical choice – sturdy enough to survive clumsy gardeners and harsh Maine winters.

Weiss is "the fish guy," the artist you see at Maine crafts fairs and at the Portland Flower Show every year selling his "Fish In the Garden." His booth is always swarming with people curious about the colorful ceramic and steel fish sculptures that he makes in his home studio in Falmouth.

Weiss' fish can stand alone on their garden rods, but they really seem to come alive and take on an otherworldly quality when displayed in groups of three or more – or entire schools – some tails turning right while others turn left.

Three is the magic number.

"One is a fish on a stick," Weiss said on a recent tour of his studio. "Two is cute and romantic. Three gives you the flow."

"The flow" is what Weiss calls the fluid aesthetic created by the curves of the swimming fish as they "move" as one through a garden.

"With the multiples, we can create these curves, and with those curves, (the fish) can curve in response to an element of the landscape," Weiss explained. "Around a rock, and then curve back this way around a tree, so it fits. No garden gnome or concrete bunny rabbit will ever have context like that."

A lot of the fish are various shades of blue, Weiss' favorite color. There are white fish splotched in red like Japanese koi, and a speckled brown trout.

The newest color, a chartreuse green with whimsical spots, is based on a color he saw women wearing at the Boston Flower Show.

The zinc crystals created by a new crystalline glaze gives some of the fish a special sparkle that makes them look as if they actually have scales.

The ceramic fish have become so wildly popular that Weiss estimates he's made at least 10,000 of them since 2008 -- enough to fill a healthy-sized aquarium, if not an entire ocean.

Why fish?

It all began when Weiss took a pottery class at Unity College back in 1998. His teacher required the class to keep a notebook of ideas. Weiss still has his notebook, filled with scribbles and photos and sketches, including some rough initial illustrations of his fish.

When the semester ended, Weiss started a landscaping business.

"I saw the junk that people would put in their gardens up in the Midcoast area," he said.

There were cheap garden gnomes and reflective balls, and at the other extreme, custom sculptures that probably cost the homeowners thousands of dollars.

"Both had that same issue of context," Weiss said. "It just didn't make sense. You can landscape around it to make something fit, but still it just always looked so random to me."

That's when he began to develop his fish with the curving tails and to think about "the flow."

It took about five years after Weiss drew his initial sketches before he could "see" the fish and the flow. It was, he said, like hearing a tune in your head and being unable to just sit down at the piano and play it.

"I had the vision, but I'd sit down and put my hands on the clay, and I'd be so discouraged," he recalled. "It would be a disaster."

Ten years after the notebook, things finally started to come together.

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Additional Photos

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Troy Weiss makes his ceramic fish – salmon, trout, koi and other “celebrity fish” – in five or six popular colors.

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