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Seeking out Juneau's public art

Posted: July 18, 2013 - 12:02am
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Public art in Chicken Yard Park, commissioned by Judy Cooper and created by Arthur Higgins.  Amy Fletcher / Juneau Empire
Amy Fletcher / Juneau Empire
Public art in Chicken Yard Park, commissioned by Judy Cooper and created by Arthur Higgins.

Juneau’s collection of public art is part of our urban landscape, as integral to the personality of the town as our buildings and steep streets. Prominent examples include Bill Ray Jr.’s “Raven Discovering Mankind in a Clam Shell” mural on the City Municipal Building, Dan DeRoux’s “Precipitation” piece on the Downtown Transit Center, Arnie Weimer’s mural at the corner of Second and Franklin Streets, Anna Burke Harris’ Patsy Ann statue on the docks, and Skip Wallen’s “Windfall Fisherman” sculpture near the Dimond courthouse. Juneau's incredible array of totem poles, a different kind of public art, includes Haida carver Dwight Wallace's Wasgo Totem in the State Office Building atrium, Tlingit carver Stephen Jackson's  Raven and Tl'anax'eet'ák'w Totem at the Mount Roberts Tram, and Tlingit carver Amos Wallace's Harnessing the Atom Totem outside the Juneau Douglas City Museum.

But that’s just the beginning. A tour of Juneau’s public art pieces would take quite a long time, and require trips to most of our public buildings and schools, as well as many locations outside.

Though several people have compiled lists of local totem poles (including the Empire, http://bit.ly/15Lid5h), and though the Juneau Douglas City Museum lists 18 major public art works on their great downloadable tourist map (http://bit.ly/120hxMA), there is no comprehensive resource for all of Juneau’s public art pieces, one that includes city-sanctioned as well as more informal examples.

Currently, work is underway to change that. Nancy DeCherney, executive director of the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, said local artist Cristine Crooks is working on getting Juneau added to the Western States Arts Federation’s Public Art Archive, a searchable database of public art pieces in various communities. This will set the groundwork for a list -- and maybe someday an app -- that can be used by both locals and tourists.

However, DeCherney said the archive has certain restrictions for what can be included in the database. If those restrictions can’t be overcome, a more informal list might still be needed, especially for locals who want something comprehensive. Maybe the community could get involved in compiling such a list, DeCherney speculated, by submitting examples of public art they appreciate around town.

To that end, here’s a short list of public art that’s tucked away in less prominent places, out of the main line of sight.

 

Juneau Map of the United States, downtown docks

To see this piece of public art, viewers need to be standing literally right on top of it. Consisting only of nails hammered into the existing wooden boards of the downtown dock, this 40- by 50-foot map was the brainchild of Michael Orelove, who created the piece with help from local students and other volunteers in 2004. The map is located at the far end of the library dock, and is often partially covered by cruise ship ramps during the tourist season.

Constructed to scale using more than 50,000 nails, the map shows Juneau at the center of a series of concentric circles that indicate its distance from the Lower 48 states. Longitude and latitude lines are marked, as is the International Date Line, indicated in several ways. Visitors have added their own nails to the map over the years, making this public art piece a work in progress.

In a previous Empire interview, Orelove said he wanted to give people a realistic sense of Alaska in relation to other states.

“I like the Texas tourists,” he said. “The map puts Alaska in its right place. I step across Texas in two steps. I step across Alaska in six. It’s the Texas two-step.”

 

Rain chimes on the Seawalk

These eight sculptures, placed at intervals along the seawalk that runs south from the Taku Smokeries dock, are functional pieces of outdoor art. According to the city engineering department’s Michele Elfers, they were designed by Tetra Tech, the firm that built the Seawalk, to operate as chimes triggered by accumulated rainwater. The bowls on the top of the sculptures catch the rainwater and funnel it into a pipe that is closed on the opposite end. Once the pipe fills up, the weight of the water causes it to swing down and strike another pipe, making a chime.

Elfers said plans are currently in the works for extending the Seawalk, and that a call for public art for the new project will soon be released.

 

Culturally Modified Trees on Mount Roberts

The Culturally Modified Trees near the Mount Roberts Tramway buildings resemble partially carved, living totem poles. Created by Richard Beasley, a highly regarded local carver (as is his twin brother, Mick), these carvings are created in such as way that they don’t hurt the tree. Traditionally used as trail markers, or to indicate boundary lines, the trees are carved only on one side, and look like regular trees from the back.

Find them on the on the Alpine Loop Trail at the top of the tram.

 

Nun and chickens sculpture at Chicken Yard Park

At Chicken Yard Park on Sixth Street downtown stands an artistic reminder of the area’s history: a metal and wood sculpture of a nun feeding a bunch of chickens. The sculpture’s theme refers to the fact that the area was used in the early 1900s as a chicken yard to provide eggs for a hospital run by the sisters of Saint Ann’s, located right down the hill.

Commissioned by Judy Cooper, an artist who lived in the neighborhood for 30 years before moving to Fairbanks, the piece was created by Arthur Higgins, an artist who lived in Juneau in the early 1970s. Higgins became a full-time artist after working as a fisherman for many years, and completed more than 40 public art projects in his lifetime. His works in the state also include sculptures in Anchorage and Petersburg schools, a mixed media piece for the CBJ School Board, and work in the permanent collection of the Alaska State Museum.

Arthur Higgins’ son Jacob is also an artist who has shown his work in Juneau, including a solo exhibit at the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council Gallery.

 

Art at UAS

UAS has an incredible art collection, which includes public art pieces such as the Raven and Eagle totems (the Raven was carved by four carvers from Haines and the Eagle by Haida carvers Joe and TJ Young of Hydaburg), a steel Raven sculpture by Lisa Rickey, and the vibrant “Deep Forest Mural” by Ray Troll in the Egan Building, among many other works. Well worth a drive out the road to check them out, if you don’t have regular business in the area.

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