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Artist envisions whale sculpture in Juneau

RT 'Skip' Wallen wants to create life-size humpback statue to commemorate statehood

Posted: Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sculptor RT "Skip" Wallen wants to commemorate the 50th anniversary of statehood on a grander scale than he did with his silver-anniversary bear sculpture outside the Capitol.

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At the Monday night Juneau Assembly meeting, Wallen and former Juneau Mayor Bill Overstreet proposed a $3 million humpback whale sculpture they would like to see erected at Marine Park in 2009.

"It's essentially going to be a life-size humpback whale," Wallen said.

The initial plan is to construct a 28-foot-tall bronze statue of a humpback breaching from a pool of water that would be visible from downtown and Gastineau Channel. Part of the whale's body, below the water, would be unseen. Humpback whales can grow to up to 50 feet long.

Overstreet presented the idea of a humpback sculpture to Wallen in the early 1990s after seeing a whale sculpture in Japan. A proposal was drawn up, and they tried to secure funding for it.

"I loved the proposal but I couldn't get any money for it so I forgot about it for a long time," Overstreet said.

This past November, he was going through some old paperwork and stumbled upon the proposal once again. He showed it to friends before taking the idea to Mayor Bruce Botelho, who backed the sculpture as a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alaska's statehood.

"I have found a lot of interest in the community now," Overstreet said.

The support includes a local donor that contributed $50,000 to begin initial work on the project. Overstreet and Wallen also have enlisted help from seasoned fundraisers to spearhead the project.

Fundraising could begin in a matter of days, Overstreet said.

Wallen said he originally envisioned the sculpture consisting of multiple whales bubble-net feeding. But due to the scope of the project, time needed to complete it, cost and several other factors, he decided to have a lone breaching whale.

"I'm trying to portray the might and the exuberance of a 40-ton creature leaping out of the sea," Wallen said.

The idea is to place the whale sculpture in an "infinity pool," which would have water filled to its brim. The project also may contain waterworks or fountains.

"I think that style of pool will be much less confining to the sculpture," Wallen said. "It also gives us a chance to have an uninterrupted reflection of Juneau and the mountains."

Along with securing funding, sculpture supporters will need to win approval from city engineers, and the project would need to make its way through the public process.

"There seems to be great optimism that it is not a problem, that we will persevere," Overstreet said. "It looks good right now."

Wallen and Overstreet believe a humpback whale would be an appropriate symbol to celebrate Alaska's statehood.

"These breaching humpback whales have to be one of the great splendors of nature, anywhere," Wallen said. "The fact that we have them in our local area, I think of it as a Juneau asset. It's something worthy of celebration."

In a time when many contentious issues seem to divide Juneau, Overstreet said the project would give the community a purpose to rally together.

"It gives something to unite around, something that would be lifting of the spirits, so to speak," he said. "I think it's going to be one of the nicest things to happen in our town in ages."

Wallen, whose sculptures can be seen from Amsterdam to Washington, D.C., to Fairbanks, said the whale sculpture would be his biggest undertaking yet.

"I don't think there are a lot of bronzes on this scale anywhere," he said. "But you know, you can't have a wimpy whale. It has to be whale size or it begins to look like a dolphin or a porpoise."

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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