Just weeks before the fire at the NCLC offices, the North Coast conservation community suffered another loss: Ron Pittard, a renowned Seaside fish illustrator and artisan of realistic fish replicas, passed away in November. His resin fish sculptures are in private collections and interpretive displays around the world, and you have no doubt seen or may own one of his fish identification posters such as “Trout, Salmon and Char of North America.” Ron was a close friend of the land trust; a few years ago, he had donated his entire collection of reference books to NCLC. “Ron was the only genius I’ve ever known,” says NCLC founder Neal Maine.
In 1983, Clatsop County contracted with Ron to create what’s become known as the “Salmon Museum”: life-size replicas of the seven salmon and trout species native to the North Coast, mounted in a Plexiglas case above an equally realistic recreation of their habitat, complete with a salmon egg-laden gravel redd. “It’s probably the finest salmon display in the world,” Neal says. Frequently displayed at schools and festivals around Oregon, the Salmon Museum has for many years been in Neal’s care and stored in the garage at NCLC headquarters. Neal had intended to move it to the Seaside Library on Thursday, Dec. 6, as he does every December, to mark the return of coho salmon to Thompson Creek and other coastal streams. When, early Dec. 5, he learned about the fire, Neal assumed the Salmon Museum was among the losses. Until, that is, he got a phone call later that morning from the director of the Seaside Aquarium.
“I’ve got this salmon display in my truck,” Keith Chandler told Neal. “What do you want me to do with it?”
It seems that when firefighters arrived at Circle Creek early Wednesday, the main house was already engulfed in flames, but fire had not yet spread to the garage. They entered and pulled out the first thing they encountered: a big rectangular box covered with a canvas tarp. It was also the last thing they saved; the fire quickly spread to the garage roof, and they had to withdraw. Only later did they pull back the tarp and realize what it was they had saved. It is the only thing in the house and garage that firefighters were able to rescue before fire took the rest.
Neal hopes that the Salmon Museum will be on display in the Seaside Library by mid-December, this time accompanied by a memorial display honoring the late artist.