Dutch Harbor Fishermen’s Memorial Nears Completion

Rusting Man Foundation.
Rusting Man Foundation.

A life-sized fishermen’s memorial for Dutch Harbor, Alaska honoring lives lost in pursuit of the bounty of the Bering Sea, is nearing completion, according to metal artist and longtime Unalaska resident Karel Machalek.

The idea for a fishermen’s memorial originated when Machalek and his wife, Marie, visited Iceland well over a decade ago, and saw that each of the fishing communities they visited there 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 vice president of the non-profit Rusting Man Foundation.

The in-progress memorial features life-sized statues of longline, 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 statues were cast in bronze in the Czech Republic, where Machalek was born and raised. Most of the informational panels for the memorial are completed, and will honor vessels and fishermen lost at sea.

The foundation accepts donations for the project, to which the city of Unalaska has already contributed $350,000, according to Unalaska public radio station KUCB.

Plans are for the city to sign a 10-year land lease for a roughly 10,000 square foot area and pay the Ounalashka Corp. a dollar a year to rent it.

Machalek said no maintenance would be required for the memorial itself. The mild steel would naturally oxidize to maintain its brownish hue while the stainless steel requires no maintenance and would retain its light- colored appearance, he said.

Machalek came to the United States in 1979, first arriving in Los Angeles.  In 1985, he moved to Unalaska and worked as a welder with Magone Marine Inc. until establishing 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, he was commissioned to create 16 sculptural covers for bollards (vertical pipe embedded in the ground to protect electrical transformers) at Unalaska’s Carl E. Moses Boat Harbor.