I received a few photos of my very first public art project, now installed in the new Port Security Building in Anchorage, Alaska. This was only the third public art project for which I had applied and I was thrilled to learn that I was the selected artist. But it wasn’t quite that easy – and how I learned of the award makes a great story.
The Request for Proposals for this project included a detailed description of this new building. The lobby would include wood planking from old ships and many ship related artifacts – bells, rope, etc.. The building itself is a check point for all visitors embarking and debarking on ships from the port of Anchorage.
I submitted a line drawing and proposed that my piece would incorporate aspects of port life that spanned time and the many cultures that have had impact on Anchorage; whalers, the native eskimos, russians, spanish and of course wildlife. I packed up my proposal and waited.
So a few months later I received a “thank you for your submission”, essentially a nicely worded rejection letter except that at the bottom it stated that the artist selected for the project was Melanie Eberhardt of Atlanta, Georgia. I figured someone just made a mistake formulating their Word document and filed everything in my reject folder.
Another month later, my phone rings as I’m walking out the door. The woman on the other end introduces herself as the director for public art for Anchorage and asks did I received my letter. She’s calling to ask if I received my rejection letter – yes thank you I did! So I’m thinking, why are you calling to rub salt in the wound, that cold weather must make people in Alaska kinda mean?
She says – oh good, I wondered if you received it because I hadn’t heard from you. I asked her, “why would I need to call you about a rejection?” Long pause. Then she said “what?” and I said “what?” and she said, “oh gosh, don’t tell me I sent you the wrong letter! you were the selected artist!”
Now here I have to apologize because I promised that I wouldn’t tell a soul about the letter snafu. But it really makes a great story to start of a great project. Sorry “J”!
She was kind enough to tell me about the review process. She said my work was like nothing else submitted. And while it caught her eye, she didn’t think it stood a chance with the other submissions – beautiful seascapes and ships. But when the review committee reached my proposal, she said they all stood up and starting pointing and laughing and had a hearty discussion about the composition and figures. When they told her “this is the one we want” she said she nearly fell off her chair.
Now, it was time to get to work. I spent several weeks researching the culture of Anchorage and reading fables and glancing at history books and then I was ready to refine my sketch, full scale and get started. It took three months to finish the painting. Its the largest piece to date, nearly 4 x 6′. I didn’t have a large enough work surface so I painted on my kitchen table and rolled it from side to side as I painted each area. I had to nail it to my living room wall to stand back and look at it to evaluate progress. I enjoyed every minute of that piece.
My final challenge was how to ship this huge piece to Alaska in December. I called the Booth Museum in Cartersville and asked to speak to their regent. They provided me with several numbers for companies that ship work for museums and private collectors.
One of my favorite aspects when I worked full time was to search for unusual vendors to help on projects. There are a million companies in the world who do the craziest things but when you need them, its always a fun learning experience.
I decided to ship the piece with a company in downtown Atlanta, Armor Circle area. They ship work around the world at the time, they had just shipped the Monets for the exhibit at the High Museum. I was in the best hands. I was barely able to stuff the framed piece in my 4Runner but managed. They were great to work with, they unloaded it onto a padded dolley, built a custom wooden box with padding and made all the shipping arrangements with Delta. Once it landed in Anchorage they even coordinated delivery to the public art offices. Not cheap! But they took care of everything.
Now my painting is in the lobby of the Port Security Building forever. Like the review committee, I hope people stop to study the details, point and discuss the piece.
If you should happen to be in Anchorage, please stop by, take a photo of yourself next to the painting and send it to me so I may post it here on my blog. I’m told the building doesn’t have a particular address but if you go to the port of Anchorage and ask the security guards if you can visit the painting, they will direct you to the appropriate building.
This project started off oddly but I wouldn’t have it any other way because it makes my first Public Art Commission a fun story!