Flow: The loss of the American Eel in the Ottawa River

In 2021 The Ottawa Riverkeeper made an appeal to help save the American eels that were facing extirpation from the Ottawa River Watershed. In addition to a donation I decided to make eels a subject of my practice. The image is monotype where the swirls of white in black ink capture the movement of eels caught in a net or weir.

Beth Shepherd, Eels Caught Up, Monotype

This spring, a group of Ottawa-Gatineau Printmakers Connective printmakers began work on a ‘Migration in Print’ project. Migration is timely as political, economic, and social conditions, exacerbated by climate change, disrupt long-standing animal movements and force ever more people to flee their homes. Since American Eels exhibit a reproductive pattern of migration inked to their spawning cycles, I decided my work would fit right in.

Wanting to do something for Culture Days (September 23 to October 16, 2022), three of us decided to make some videos taking a behind-the-scenes look at our creative processes in making new migration-themed works. Wanting to also put on an in-person Culture Days event, we approached Carleton University’s Book Arts Lab. Larry Thompson, generously provided space for an exhibition and an in-person event on October 14 (1-4pm). Here is the link to our Cultures Day Hub with descriptions for our three online and two in-person events.

The artwork I made for Culture Days is called Flow: Recruitment and Escapement.

Flow: Recruitment and Escapement, 244 X 91.5 cm, Mixed media collagraph print

Yellow eels enter freshwater habitats making their way upstream (“recruitment”) where they remain feeding and hibernating until they reach sexual maturity decades later. Sexually mature females, now blackish and silver, head downstream towards the ocean (“escapement”). To render the existential fragility of this species I employ the ephemeral qualities of Japanese mulberry paper.

In my video I talk about the plight of the American eel and present the behind-the-scenes steps in the production of Flow: Recruitment and Escapement.

Culture Days Video