KETCHIKAN — There’s a new, painted bus in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.
As a partner to the iconic and well-traveled salmon bus designed by Ray Troll, the transit department commissioned a new bus designed by Marvin Oliver.
Given one month, Oliver designed the salmon to adorn the vehicle, using native-inspired design in black and red with a splash of blue. The fish swim along the bus from back to front, adding life and movement to what was once a pale canvas. Oliver’s personal stamp is on top of the bus in the form of a neon-colored salmon popping against a black background. Lucite salmon roe will be added to the roof to complete the eye-catching display.
The transit department issued a call with a budget of $15,000 and accepted bids from three artists. The request called for a “Northwest coast Native style interpretation” of the salmon theme.
Kyan Reeve, borough transit manager, was impressed with the speed at which the six artists worked. Painted in only five days, the group worked long hours to ensure the bus would be complete in time to present at a recent Assembly meeting.
The transit department carried on with the “Salmon Run” theme used for Troll’s bus in 2009. Reeve had done his research, gathering salmon images from local artists in town and coming up with more examples than he had buses to put them on.
“Our research showed almost every local artist has done something to play on the idea of salmon,” Reeve said. “We felt there was enough variety to go ahead and do it again.”
Oliver was skeptical about the project at first, but after seeing Troll’s bus become a significant addition to the community, he decided to take part in the project.
“I have always admired Ray’s bus and he has been instrumental to getting me to participate in the project,” Oliver said.
Residents of Native communities along the coast have seen pictures of the newest bus and its progress online. Oliver said the people have reached out to the painters and are excited about the bus.
“The art reflects on the whole Native community and everyone wants to ride on the bus,” he said. “It is a neat way of sharing the art and (having people on the bus) gives life to the art.”
Oliver sees the design as a way to respect and honor the fish that come here in a way that everyone, locals and tourists, can admire and appreciate together.
“It is an exciting opportunity to do something culturally significant for our community,” he said. “I would like to see additional (public) art that has Native pride attached to it.” Reeve has secured the funding to complete another bus and could have produced them concurrently, but has decided to wait a year or so before beginning the next project.
“We want each one to have its moment in the public,” he said. “The first bus has been around for a few years and we want the next one to have its moment.”
The process of designing and painting the bus has been one of learning, not just for the painters and the transit department, but for Oliver as well. His original plans included using a technique of masking, or placing vinyl on the bus and painting the open spaces and then removing the vinyl to reveal the painted graphics. But further discussion and planning revealed this technique to be a bad idea.
“I was so worried,” Oliver said. “I didn’t know how to get it done other than that way.”
Oliver said Guillermo “Memo” Jaurequi was instrumental in helping move the project along. A resident of Los Angeles, Memo is a muralist and is used to working with art on a large scale.
“Memo agreed to help and give instruction,” Oliver said. “I have learned so much from him.”
Along with Memo, who helped the Troll-designed bus, four additional painters were employed to give life to the art: Ken Decker, Nahaan, Kevin Clevenger and Tim Flannery. It has been a shared experience among all of them and Oliver is proud and honored to have worked alongside them, he said.
“It carries the spirit of those that helped in painting the bus, it has a strong presence,” he said. “I just designed it, but they gave the birth to the bus. They have as much ownership of the bus as I do.”
Giving back to the community is a cultural value, Oliver said, as is sharing experience and love for art and the past. Seeing the two salmon buses side-by-side at the bus barn brought a particular happiness and the feeling of being a part of something bigger.
“It is a kinship between the two buses,” he said. “Different in design, but same in purpose.”