The Art

In Japanese, “gyo” means fish and “taku” means printing or rubbing. Put them together and you get Gyotaku, the ancient Japanese art of fish rubbing. It didn’t actually begin as art, but was instead used to record the type (and size) of the fish that was caught – a truly ancient form of taxidermy. The origins of the method, like those trophy catches, are shrouded in story …

Legend has it an emperor caught a very large snapper, his favorite fish to dine on. His royal status precluded anyone from calling him out on the inevitable fish story, but he was so proud of his catch he wanted the memory of it displayed for everyone to see (before they chowed down). The idea came to him – coat the fish with ink and then press it on paper! His servants subsequently went to work, preserving the trophy (and the bragging rights).

If you are into big tales, Japanese fisherman have been using the technique for centuries, but the most recent historical fish rubbings date back to the mid-1800s. Yoshio Hiyama, a Japanese ichthyologist, used Gyotaku to share the details of fish species with American scientists back in 1952. Janet Canning, who worked closely with Yoshio, produced detailed prints for the Smithsonian Institute.

Soon thereafter Gyotaku took center stage during an exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History. Mr. Hiyana has even published a book on method, entitled Gyotaku: The Art and Technique of the Japanese Fish Print.

Your Gyotaku artist Scott Wells has been a fisherman nearly all his life, and while he tells fishing stories that people [sometimes] believe, he has been practicing the craft for about five years now. Now he’s got no excuse when it comes to the one that got away.