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Great Lakes Aquarium lands donated sturgeon art

Christa Lawler,

A Superior-based artist whose family has a fondness for the Great Lakes Aquarium has donated a piece of stained-glass art that will hang in the lobby window.

Gretchen Lisdahl’s “Living Fossil” was inspired by the aquarium’s Isle Royale exhibit, which features nine lake sturgeon.

It’s the go-to display for the Lisdahl family, which regularly visits the attraction on the Bayfront — between recreational visits and her 4-year-old daughter’s Isabella’s preschool classes.

“It’s our favorite thing to see here,” said Lisdahl, who described the threatened species’ hug-like interaction with divers. “I like to watch them snuggle. I think they’re fabulous creatures.”

Lisdahl has been working with stained glass since 2002, though most of her work hangs in the homes of her family members. She said she was looking for a more public display when she approached the aquarium’s executive director about donating a piece.

Lisdahl showed Jack LaVoy a portfolio of her work, and he immediately accepted the offer.

“It turned out even more beautiful than I could have anticipated,” he said.

LaVoy said he’s hoping to commission more pieces —

otters, trout, birds — to hang in the window near the sturgeon.

“Living Fossil” is the aquarium’s first art installation in a decade. Bonny Waletzko, a potter from Willow River, created a vase made of fish, water and land images titled “In Harmony.” According to an inscription, the piece celebrates “artists who draw inspiration from Lake Superior.”

It took three months for Lisdahl to create “Living Fossil” — most of it was spent drawing a pattern. Then, she selected glass, cut the pieces, wrapped them in copper tape and soldered it. The fish’s eye is a point of pride for Lisdahl: It required three kinds of glass and was fired in a kiln.

Lisdahl said she was surprised she didn’t cry when it was unveiled.

“It’s inspiring to want to do more,” she said. “As an artist, I’m lucky to do what I like every day. … This was a labor of love. It refueled my fire to do more.”

The piece, Lisdahl said, is in honor of her daughter — though Isabella claims the gift shop is her favorite stop at the aquarium, not the sturgeon.

She’s in luck: Her mother will have small sun catchers, made from the scraps of “Living Fossil,” for sale in the shop.