OPEN JULY 6 – OCTOBER 28, 2018
Faces of a Fish Empire: A Visual History of the Empire Fish Company and the Decline of Commercial Fishing in Wisconsin.
Tom Kutchera (1932-2016), former owner of Empire Fish Company and amateur photographer, created this collection of employee portraits over a period of 30 years starting in the 1960’s. Preserved in family photo albums, these photographs honor the individuals who supplied Wisconsin’s numerous Friday Night Fish Fries. Through a humanitarian lens, Kutchera’s portraits celebrate those who don’t often get commemorated: the production workers behind the scenes.
Commercial fishing is often explained with statistics, boats and economics of a cold, material-focused industry. Our upcoming exhibit, Faces of a Fish Empire, opening on July 6 challenges this approach by showing the personal side of the food we eat every Friday at our restaurants and supper clubs by highlighting the human story of Wisconsin’s fisherman and fish mongers.
This exhibit features the photographs from the book of the same name. Tom Kutchera, former owner of Empire Fish Company and amateur photographer, captured portraits of the company’s fish cutters, retail clerks and truck drivers between the 1960s and 1980s. Preserved in family photo albums, these photographs honor the individuals who fed Wisconsin and supplied numerous Friday Night Fish Fries. Through a humanitarian lens, Kutchera’s portraits celebrate those who don’t often get commemorated: the production workers behind the scenes.
Artifacts from the Door County Maritime Museum constitute the second half of the exhibit telling a more personal and human story about the fishing industry. These items reflect the physical labor required of the trade: Fishing nets used by fishermen to provide for themselves and their families, a compass used by fishermen, a model of a Fish Tug, and a sign from a local family business, Andy’s Fish Market. In addition, oral histories of local fishermen and fish companies will be featured.
Faces of a Fish Empire confronts the human aspect of the decline in Lake Michigan’s fishing industry due to invasive species, over-fishing, globalization, and consolidation in the food industry. While Empire Fish Company still exists, many other family-owned fish companies and fishermen have disappeared as a result of the collapse of commercial fish catches in Lake Michigan during the second half of the twentieth century. We recognize the people behind the scenes in our state’s commercial fishing industry as well as our connection to those people with this exhibit.