Islander Profile: Allen Moe


Soft spoken with a ready smile, a wealth of talent, many adventures tucked under his belt, and admittedly “city phobic”, Allen Moe sits with a cup of coffee in a log cabin on Guemes that is warm and overflowing with the art that expresses his love of all things natural. The cabin with its windows and skylights lets in the natural light. It is the glow that emanates from inside that brings me here on this cool, crisp autumn day to hear the fascinating account of his life.

Allen Moe was born in Yosemite Valley, California to parents, who were park district employees. He received his BA in Ecology from UC Berkeley in 1970.

Allen spent two years as a park ranger in Alaska at Mt McKinley. He also worked for the Department of Fish and Wildlife as a biologist studying seabirds in the remote Aleutian Islands.

Allen's homestead in Alaska.

Allen, and his then girlfriend, were one of the last to obtain a federal homestead grant of 5 acres, in Alaska, {1972 before the pipeline} After staking their claim they built a 12x16 log cabin. In spring of 1973 the two were flown with supplies to this remote area. Without a clue about what they were doing, the couple cut down and used 40 white spruce logs. They used ingenuity, a cold chisel, and single shot rifle to carve out their cabin in the wilderness and become self-sufficient.

He arrived on Guemes via the inside passage after having kayaked from Prince Rupert. He resorted to hitchhiking the marine highway after encountering some bad September weather. Armed only with the map from the ferry and the name of a friend’s brother, he arrived on Guemes prepared to sell his kayak and buy a bus ticket south.

Last spring he did a seminar workshop in textiles at Honolulu University. Winter often finds him in Death Valley, California observing the desert floor and gravel pattern after a flash flood and turning it into art. When asked about the future he says he has no plans. “I just want to work on my art.”

His art goes back to his college days. He made his first clay pot in college and needed to put skin on it. He went to the drugstore and bought suede and shoelaces to glaze over. This artform has evolved considerably since then.

What look like gilded satin ribbon is actually herring.

They are simple black pots adorned with the organs, skin, and bones of animals, fish and insects. Large pots covered with cow stomachs look like contour maps, or shoals of shifting sands seen from above. Hundreds of ladybugs assembled under translucent, resinlike deerskin cause the object nearly to burst with implied life. What look like gilded satin ribbon is actually herring. Ladybugs form a symmetric pattern. Chicken feet are splayed across a pot’s surface. He gathers his materials not only from forest roads but also from supermarkets: chicken-foot skins from a Food Pavilion; smelt from an Anacortes Safeway; cow stomachs from a local butcher.

A simple black pot adorned with chicken-foot skins from Food Pavilion.

These are not serviceable pots. Vessels are usually built to carry necessary elements; these are built to bear some kind of witness to the dead creatures they wear. They're respectful and spiritual.

Robert Sund’s word description of the river: “Out on the river you know you are in the midst of a great creation. You see the old work, and the new work side by side; the ancient migration routes of all the birds, and the slow building of silt and soil in the estuary; a small grassy island, for instance, that wasn’t there last year and that, in a few seasons, will grow new willow for the blackbirds and the beavers.”

Allen working on pots at his house along the Skagit River.

Robert Sund died in 2001. Allen spends much of his time at Robert Sund’s former gill-netters shack in Fishtown on the North Fork at the mouth of the Skagit River. Allen created a beautifully unique urn that contains Sund’s ashes. At the river he sits with a flashlight and draws the stars in the night sky. He relishes the birds and the wildlife. He creates his pottery. There are many parallels between the two artists lives. We are fortunate to have the memory of one and the company of the other.

by MJ Andrak


Profiles of Victor Garcia, Janice Veal, Dorothy Bird, Tim Wittman and Joost Businger

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