PUBLISHED: 4:30 PM on Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Bronze sculpture of whale, fountain proposed to Juneau
A new art icon is on the rise as Juneau Arts & Humanities joins with a local group to place a life-scale bronze sculpture of a breaching humpback whale rising from a pool of water on the waterfront in Juneau.

With brainstorming skills from former Mayor Bill Overstreet, fundraising methods by Laraine Derr and the talent of long-time Alaskan artist RT Wallen, their vision will hopefully become a reality.

Courtesy photo
  Long-time Juneau artist R.T. (Skip) Wallen sculpts the humpback whale maquette, or mini working model in Manitowoc, Wis. on July 1.
"It was my idea, but what (Wallen) came up with was much grander that I didn't recognize it as my idea because he improved on it so much," Overstreet said.

In 1993, Overstreet approached the Wallen about the whale sculpture for Juneau, and the artist then wrote a proposal.

"I'd saved the proposal and clearing out some old papers I came across it and thought this was an idea whose time had come. I showed it to friends and they agreed and thought it was an idea we ought to get to work on," Overstreet said.

"I went to see Bruce Botelho and his reaction was as enthusiastic as mine. He thought the perfect way for Juneau to commemorate the 50th anniversary of statehood, would be to have this ready for dedication by that time. So, that's now our goal-it would be sometime in 2009."

Doing his research, Wallen's vision offers a spectacular structure including lifelike details, artistic interpretation and the usage of the pool to emphasize the whale's natural setting.

The whale will be 24 to 28 feet high, depending on decisions yet to be made about the pool's depth. From the surface of the pool, the whale will rise about 22 feet. The flippers are each 14 feet long, about one-third the body of some full-grown humpback whales.

"The whale is in a twisting backwards breach, falling to its left. Its left eye will look down at people viewing the whale from that side. The right eye looks skyward and will be visible only to people arriving on cruise ships and possibly to people in the library," Wallen said.

The sculpture will rise out of a reflecting pool with jets creating churning bubbles at the surface, sheets of water cascading off the fins and body, and mist near the blow-hole, all lending to the dramatic, majestic playfulness of the sculpture.

"The sculpture itself will be entirely made of bronze, but it will have to have an internal support," he said.

The bronze medium will have a reflective surface from the sun, he said.

While the project is exciting, there are still significant steps to take before it becomes possible.

On Monday, Aug. 6, the group met with the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly and proposed the project. Information about the meeting was not available at Monday's press time.

"This is an idea we hope the city will participate in. We hope the (city) will participate with the actual preparation of the site and pool; the city will provide the site, the responsibility of maintenance and permit the use of the site," Derr said.

"After we get this passed through the assembly, then it will be fundraising effort. We will look to foundations for donations; we will be looking for substantial donations from all sources," she said.

The project is estimated to cost approximately $3 million. So far $50,000 has been contributed.

"It will be a monumental fundraiser for a monumental whale," she said.

Derr, who said she firmly believes in the community, has added her efforts for several local fundraisers including the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, the Noyes Pavillion and more. Other future fundraising supporters include locals Dennis Eagan and Steve Allwine.

After the project is given the "OK," Wallen will take the clay maquette, a working model, to a foundry in Enterprise, Ore. He will need to hire helpers, and will live there while working on the project, which will take more than a year. Once the model is at the foundry, they will have a better estimate of the actual costs.

Wallen's work is worldwide including other monumental sculptures in Geneva, Switzerland, Netherlands and Washington D.C. His addition of the "Windfall Fisherman," a life-sized bronze brown bear located on Main Street is a hit with locals and tourists alike. The group hopes the whale sculpture will be just as popular.

"Positioned as it will be, this sculpture creates and icon of the grandeur of Alaska, visible from both the sea and from the land on both sides of the channel, attracting tourism, providing a gathering place of beauty for the community, drawing attention to these beautiful giants of the sea, and giving all of Alaska a symbol that resonates through our history and culture," said executive director Nancy DeCherney, of JAHC.

"We are using our imagination because we're not just doing a whale but we're doing a work of art," Wallen said.