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

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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).

By 2008, Weiss had been landscaping for 10 years and was ready for something different. He made the decision that he would just keep making the fish until he got them to look the way he wanted. He still has an early version in his studio, a smaller, thinner fish that could be angled up or down but ended up spinning in the wind.

In January 2008, Weiss did his first show at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Interior designers, landscape architects and store owners went crazy for his creations, and by the next year, Weiss couldn't keep up with orders. Still making each fish by hand, he was able to do 20 in a 50-hour week, but it wasn't enough.

Weiss knew he not only needed more garden fish, he needed consistency. He switched to plaster molds, enabling him to triple his output and bring the price down. He settled into five or six popular colors, and began to work more efficiently and buy supplies in larger quantities.

It was hard to give up making them all by hand, but eventually Weiss started making a small percentage of them that way again. He just made a big custom set of codfish, for example, for someone who lives on Cape Cod. "It's kind of like a Toyota and a Lexus," Weiss said.

The fish made from molds cost $80 each; the handmade fish are $125.

The price of the stainless steel fish varies, but most for the garden cost around $75. The steel fish come in trout, mackerel, bluefin tuna, striped bass and tarpon.

Each kind of fish has its own market.

"The steel people are drawn right to the steel fish," Weiss said. "They don't see the clay fish, and they don't ask about them. And vice versa. So by doing the steel, I hit on this whole other customer, which tends to be more men."

The ceramic fish are made from sturdy stoneware clay and fired to around 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, a process that makes them able to withstand Maine's below-zero winter temperatures.

It takes two weeks to make a fish, and Weiss' studio, which is attached to his house, is filled with the tools he needs to bring them to life -- along with packing materials for shipping the finished product.

He has hired a part-time assistant, and they sometimes run out of room in the small studio even when they're just glazing a batch of fish.

Shelves in the studio are lined with dozens of finished fish in all kinds of colors. "During the summer, what you see there turns over about every week," Weiss said.

The most fish ever sold to a single customer was 90. They were bought by a woman who gave them as gifts to members of her family.

Weiss' long-term goal is to get production out of the house and have people handle it for him while he concentrates on new, one-of-a-kind designs. He'd like to have more time to talk with customers to find out what they like and don't like.

"Creativity, for me, it's not this constant state of mind," Weiss said. "It's something you sit down and kind of tap into.

"I think right now, I'm intentionally holding back a little bit because I have two really young kids, 2 and 4, and there's just no extra time in the day. When I take on something that involves more responsibility, I'm neglecting something on the other end."

Meanwhile, Weiss will keep on making his salmon, trout, koi and other "celebrity fish" that his customers fall in love with at first sight.

"Koi are kept as pets all over the world," Weiss said. "Trout and salmon are on almost every continent and sought after by fishermen, and people eat them. I could do a lumpfish, but nobody really knows what a lumpfish looks like. So I stick with these really distinct, celebrity, popular fish.

"I'm kind of making the fish I want to catch," he said, laughing.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

 

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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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