Just over a year since the destruction of a beloved downtown mural, the Seward Mural Society has a plan to recreate the lost work in a new style.
Call it the Resurrection of the Whales.
This year’s Mural Society project, executed by master artist J. Leslie, will hew closely to the theme of “Sea-ward Bound,” the life-size humpback whale depiction by Justine Pechuzal and Liza McElroy that had for seven years graced the south side of the downtown Palace Building.
That mural came down in the summer of last year after building owner Elliott Jackson resolved to repair leaking and crumbling concrete. The mural, painted directly on the building, did not survive the repair job, which involved re-stuccoing the entire wall.
Now, Jackson has come to an agreement with the Mural Society that will provide the space for the new painting and ensure that it can be maintained for the long haul.
At the time of the repair, Jackson had contemplated putting up a new artwork on his own initiative, but the price came in too high, he told the Journal.
“The bids I had for it was like $75,000 to get it done, and I said that’s a lot of money,” Jackson said. “I had two different bids that were about that high, and I can’t afford to do that, not with all the work I’ve had to do with that building.”
Jackson has plans to bring public artworks to other properties of his around town.
“If we’re going to be the mural capital of Alaska, I’ve got walls to put stuff on,” he said.
The agreement with the Mural Society leverages the society’s base of volunteers and its fundraising clout to pull together the money, labor and experience required to execute large public art works. Jackson will pay to install the completed mural, which will be painted on large aluminum panels.
Even with considerable volunteer labor, the Mural Society’s public art works still come with a hefty price tag.
“Our murals are costing approximately $20,000 each these days for good sized ones,” wrote Mural Society representative Jennifer Headtke in an email. “We do some grant writing and get local buy in, usually around half and half.”
The Mural Society has typically employed a single paid artist to conceive each piece and guide the dozens of volunteers who do the actual painting. In the case of the new whale mural, that artist is J. Leslie
For ten years, Leslie has developed a highly geometric and colorful oeuvre, currently represented in his A Million Mountains project, selections from which are on view at Resurrect Art Coffee House.
“That is something I’ve done a lot of in small pen-and-ink illustration,” Leslie said of applying geometric patterns to figural subjects like wildlife. “It’s really where I’ve taken that and gone larger-scale with landscapes.”
Drawing on Pechuzal and McElroy’s original composition, Leslie can bring his signature style to a new subject, a move that both excites and challenges him.
“It’s going to be new, but it is a rebirth of the new mural,” Leslie said. “Similar, but not the same.”
The mural team did not leave the previous artists out of the loop. Leslie intentionally sought out Pechuzal to discuss the project and invite her to participate.
“[Leslie] asked if I wanted to collaborate, and I was definitely interested but didn’t really have the time,” Pechuzal said. “I also just had this feeling that it would be a good opportunity for J., or whatever new artist, and it had been such a great opportunity for me.”
“The outcome of that project was just such a delight,” she added. “As much as I would love to repeat that, I think it’s also great for someone to get to have that. I think it’s really cool that they’re keeping the similar theme but doing it in a new way.”
The mural is expected to be painted this fall and installed next spring, Headtke said.
“The return of the whales [is] a good thing,” Headtke wrote. “I think it was sad that Elliot got so much flack for covering them up, when he didn't have much choice because of the building leakage.
“This is certainly a second coming!”