Boise calligrapher aims quill at salmon

Michael Jones. Photo by Greg Stahl

By Greg Stahl, IRU

Michael Jones is particularly proud of the 15 salmon-centered calligraphy works he’s created.

A Boise vegetable farmer and conservation-oriented activist, Jones was born and raised in Caldwell, Idaho, and reminisces fondly about the days before dams were erected on the lower Snake River, back when he watched salmon course the rivers and streams of the Sawtooth Valley.

“It’s philosophical,” Jones explained about his interest. “Salmon are intriguing to people. They’re beautiful. Not only are they good to eat, but we’re interested in their circular lifecycle. And they’re certainly threatened with extinction because of human activities.”

Calligraphy is an medium Jones first embraced taking a college course in 1967, and he’s worked with it ever since to help bridge art and ecology.

“I’m interested in calligraphy because I’m interested in words and ideas,” he said. “Presenting text telegraphically, the calligraphy and the design help attract people to the message. And, of course, the message has to stand on its own.”

The draw to salmon for Jones is ecological, biological and social, but the species’ metaphorical significance is unavoidably attractive to this natural deep thinker.

As one example, his work titled “Salmon Spirit” illustrates his attention to the ethereal interpretations of a species that spans ecosystems.

“It’s like the life of a person,” he explained about the metaphors at work in the piece. “As someone searching for some kind of higher truth, one is born, grows up and in maturity reaches — climbs a ladder — to some sort of connection with higher meaning.

“Salmon Spirit is meant to do that. There’s just a moving shape. A brush shape that’s an ascending brush stroke with a smooth curve at the top. The ascending idea, like a fountain, like a force might come up out of the earth. I actually thought of it like a force, like some sort of life force or spirit force coming up.”

Jones said the combination of living in Idaho and being away for extended periods help him appreciate his home with vigor. It’s a place with unique natural assets that must be protected by alert citizens, he said, and salmon are at the top the list.

“They’re like a miner’s canary,” he said. “We can be sure that if the salmon go extinct many other species, including ourselves, are going to be in trouble, too.”