Life-Sized Fishermen’s Memorial Planned for Unalaska

fishermen’s memorial
A small-scale rendering of a life-sized fishermen’s memorial planned for Unalaska. Image courtesy of Karel Machalek.

An accomplished artist from the Czech Republic who has spent years in the maritime industry at Unalaska plans to erect a life-sized Fishermen Memorial at the Carl Moses Boat Harbor in 2023, honoring lives lost in pursuit of the Bering Sea’s bounty.

The memorial would include life-sized statues of long-line, crab and cod harvesters, on an octagon shaped, five-foot high base constructed of a stainless steel frame, adorned with stainless steel sea-life figures.

The names of vessels and lives lost are planned to be displayed on the memorial on plaques and in other creative ways, according to the artist, Karel Machalek. Machalek was born and raised in the former Czechoslovakia, which is now the Czech Republic. There he learned to weld and worked as a tradesman.

The city of Unalaska has already agreed to allocate $250,000 toward construction of Machalek’s project, and the artist’s Rusting Man Foundation is seeking donations to cover the remaining cost of the $500,000 project.

The idea for a fishermen’s memorial originated when Machalek and his wife, Marie, were visiting Iceland over a decade ago, she said. As they visited fishing communities there they noticed that each one had its own memorial to fishermen lost at sea. They decided that Dutch Harbor, the biggest fishing port in Alaska by volume of seafood harvested, needed one as well, said Marie, who serves as the Rusting Man Foundation’s vice president.

The memorial’s three fishermen are being cast in bronze in the Czech Republic. While the bronze is being cast, work is being performed on the mast, lights, cabling and crab pot.

No maintenance would be required for the memorial itself; Machalek said the mild steel would naturally oxidize to maintain its brownish hue while the stainless steel requires no maintenance and will retain its light-colored appearance. Should storm events cause debris to remain on the installation, simple hosing with water or light brushing would easily restore the piece, he said.

The life-sized installation requires a variety of materials and talent to construct, including mold making, bronze casting, stainless steel fabrication, wood working and site work, all specialty fields, making it a true collaboration, Machalek said.

To the extent possible, all materials will be procured on the island. Welding and fabrication will take place at Unalaska.

Efforts are already underway to get financial support for the project from local businesses and organizations. The contact list includes trade unions, fish processors, industry support businesses and fishing fleets.

Key Bank is the agent for the project, with all donations to be held in trust for the sole purpose of seeing the project to completion.

Machalek immigrated to the U.S. in 1979, first landing in Los Angeles. In 1985, he moved to Unalaska and worked as a welder with Magone Marine Inc. until he established his own welding firm, Alpha Welding Inc., in 1990. Marie, a Czech friend whom he met in California in 1984, moved to Unalaska in 1994, and the couple married two years later.

Machalek’s body of work ranges from a series of mixed-media art pieces with local Unalaska artist Mike Rasmussen in 1993 to the composition of four music recordings released between 2009 and 2015. In 2005, Machalek produced a year-long metal art exhibition at the Museum of the Aleutians in the city of Unalaska.

In 2013, Machalek was commissioned to create 16 sculptural covers for bollards (vertical pipe embedded in the ground to protect electrical transformers) at the Carl E. Moses Boat Harbor. The bollard covers merge form with function, to pay homage to the primary industry that supports Dutch Harbor by depicting iconic sea life familiar to those who call the island home.