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Meredosia Memories

The fishing boom in Meredosia is long gone, but fish basket trap maker Earl Edlin is working hard to make sure the region's crafts don't disappear.

Commercial fishing once flourished in this town on the banks of the Illinois River, with catches reportedly reaching 60,000 pounds of carp a day. But pollution from upstream cities decimated the fish population, and by the 1950s the fishing industry was fizzling out.

With help from the Illinois Arts Council apprenticeship program, Edlin is passing his skills to the next generation, teaching students like Jeff Barnett how to assemble wooden fish basket traps. It's a laborious process to bend the wood braces, nail down the slats and carve the fingers. But the end result, a majestic piece of functional sculpture, is worth the wait.

The catfish caught in the trap may not agree on its beauty, but what do fish know about art?

Related Links

Visit the Illinois State Museum's "Harvesting the River" website to explore the Central Illinois fishing industry and to learn more about how fish basket traps are made.

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Step into Earl Edlin's shop as he assembles another fish basket with help from apprentice Jeff Barnett.

 

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A fish catch on Lake Meredosia, 1925. Courtesy of the Meredosia River Museum.

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A fish basket trap. Image courtesy of the Illinois State Museum.

 

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