Blackwater Railroad Company’s Temple Studios on Fifth Avenue will soon host a wraparound mural depicting two of the Alaska coast’s threatened species: the spectacled eider and the north Pacific right whale.
A partnership between the Seward-based band and the Center for Biological Diversity, the mural will be one of a dozen that the national conservation advocacy organization has erected around the country.
The Center, headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., is an environmentalist organization that claims over 600,000 members. The group has attracted attention for its legal work on behalf of endangered species.
Temple Studios previously hosted a Seward Mural Society painting called “Our Flag Flies in Washington.” That mural was carefully removed and is being stored inside the building until a new location can be found, said Blackwater vocalist Tyson Davis.
Muralists Roger Peet and Trish Tripp began work on Monday, and expect to have the painting completed by the middle of next week. Temple Studios will host an unveiling and mural celebration on Aug. 21.
The project has been in the works since January, said Tyson Davis and J. W. Frye, both of Blackwater Railroad Company, but the discussion began even earlier. Frye and Davis were acquaintances of muralist Trish Tripp, who also leads the band Hearts Gone South.
Tripp, who has worked on previous murals for the Center for Biological Diversity, became the connection between the two groups. Tripp has contributed to murals depicting the endangered freshwater mussels of the Tennessee River, the Carolina northern flying squirrel, and the white fringeless orchid.
On each of those projects, Tripp collaborated with Roger Peet, who leads the CBD’s Endangered Species Mural Project. The art program complements the organization’s legal advocacy by spreading awareness of the plight of endangered species, Peet said.
Each mural project begins with the search for a suitable location and continues with the choice of subject matter.
“I work with scientists at the Center to identify what would be a relevant species,” he said. “We have never really had a hard time finding a species.”
For the Temple Studios painting, the organization chose two species: the spectacled eider and the north Pacific right whale.
The north Pacific right whale is among the rarest and most threatened species of marine mammal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A large, black baleen whale that reaches lengths of more than 60 feet and weights of up to 100 tons, the north Pacific right whale was reduced to near extinction by whaling activity in previous centuries.
The whale has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1970. Population estimates from NOAA put the number of north Pacific right whales around one hundred.
The spectacled eider is distinctively colored sea duck, named for characteristic white patches around its eyes. The species experienced a dramatic decline in the last half of the 20th century, but the cause of the decline is unknown. The Alaska population appears to have stabilized around 8,000 breeding pairs, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The spectacled eider is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The mission of the mural project fits neatly with the band’s vision for Temple Studios, said Davis and Frye. Conceived as a community center where young people can be introduced to the media and skills of the 21st century, the studio comes with an educational mission that dovetails – or in this case, “ducktails,” says Frye – with that of the mural.
The two men were inspired to open Temple Studios after a 2016 cross-continental tour that dramatically increased the band’s reach, they say.
“Blackwater went from being a band that was very well known in Seward to being vaguely known throughout the United States and being very well known in Alaska,” Frye said. “We found we had a platform to weigh in on a lot more.”
“We started to sense that building content, creative content, meant so much in the world where opinions are formed and calcified on social media,” Frye said. “The people who are being left behind in the ability to make that content are being left out of the conversation, period.”
“[The Center for Biological Diversity] uses these murals to attract attention to a problem,” Davis said. “And we’re using the community center to draw attention to a need.”