By: Mike Rostad
(Note: This article was originally published in Mike Rostad’s column for the Kodiak Daily Mirror, “Kodiak Tapestry, on October 4, 2013.)
Woody Knebel, superintendent of Ocean Beauty’s Alitak processing plant in Lazy Bay, sees beauty in the ordinary. Everything serves an aesthetic purpose — even rusty old wrenches that crumble with the slightest torque or an old wooden dory that was used in beach-seining operations at the turn of the century. The dory is the centerpiece of a museum Knebel has been developing for the last four years.
|Alitak Brand salmon, showing the location of Alitak on the south endof Kodiak Island. Image courtesy Rick Metzger.
“You can see rub marks on the side where they pulled the web, corks and leads,” said Knebel. Once Knebel had cleaned up the aging, dirt-corroded dory, he considered painting it. But, respecting the fact that it took 100 years to get this way, he covered it with linseed oil instead. After all, “original” is beauty in museum terminology.
The museum is located next to the mug-up room in the very first cannery building that officially opened at Lazy Bay in 1918. Since then, Alitak has been operating continuously under different owners, including Alitak Packing Company, Pacific American Fisheries, Wards Cove and now, Ocean Beauty.
Items for the museum were donated by local seiners and set-netters and gathered from Alitak, Moser Bay, Olga Bay and other canneries. The Akhiok-Kaguyak Native Corporation, which owns the land where some of the canneries are located, gave Knebel permission to transport artifacts to the museum. Some board members donated historical paraphernalia. The museum is a “community” project. “It’s a work in progress,” he said.
The weather-beaten equipment and gear tell the story of how fishing, processing and marketing were done a century ago: labeling machines, old salmon cans with Norman Rockwellish labels, cannery store ledgers, buckets, pues, tool boxes, wrenches, salmon seine and pilot-house wheels. The museum even has a pair of hand cuffs used by a superintendent to keep rowdy, drinking workers in line. Enclosed in the museum is a radio room that has a lazarette covering for a door. Pictures of Chinese, Filipino, Native and Caucasian workers show the cannery’s ethnic diversity, which continues to this day.
If Knebel can’t find a spot for his treasures in the museum, he’ll use them as artistic ornaments which make Alitak perhaps the most unique processing plant in the state. Metallic and wooden art, paintings and murals catch the attention of cannery worker, fisherman and fish buyer. A metal sculpture of an Alutiiq hunter with bow and arrows is firmly planted on a wall of one of the buildings. Knebel designed it in five minutes. “I found all the pieces in the recycle bin. The body is from old copper pipes, the head from a broken grinder/chopper assembly and the arrows at one time were used to drill holes for drift pins used in dock and piling work.”
The wind gauge is a metal salmon on top of a flag pole. “We bring it down during the winter and, prior to putting it back up, we have people engrave their names on it.”Local artists have also contributed to Cape Alitak’s uniqueness. Ralph Christiansen of Old Harbor carved the mask on the tin warehouse; Knebel added the tusks. Kay Underwood, one of the set-netters who sell fish to Alitak, painted a life-size picture of a Kodiak brown bear that looks a lot like the one that charged Knebel at Cape Alitak. Underwood’s mural of the mythical god, Trident, guards the entrance to the bathrooms.
Recently Knebel constructed a chapel that provides spiritual refreshment during the long, weary summer. Topped with a cross, the buildings stands away from the cannery complex, with a mountainous backdrop. People of any creed can come to the chapel to pray and meditate. The son of a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor, Knebel said the chapel allows room for the spiritual and mystical.