A mural depicting imagery and iconography of Kenai brightens the entryway of the Walmart in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A mural depicting imagery and iconography of Kenai brightens the entryway of the Walmart in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

‘Visible art raises people’s spirits’

Local artist’s mural introduced as part of Walmart renovations

A large mural by local artist Susan Watkins was recently installed in the entryway of the Kenai Walmart as part of their ongoing remodel. She said Wednesday that murals make spaces more welcoming and can serve to liven communities — she wants to see more public art in Kenai and Soldotna.

At Walmart, the mural features prominently a large caribou standing among fireweed. It also depicts dipnetters lining the coast, a mountain rising over Cook Inlet, a commercial fishing vessel, a salmon leaping from the river and a Russian Orthodox church like those seen in Old Town.

Guidance was “wide open,” Watkins said. She said they just knew they wanted wildlife.

Depicting the caribou, she said, was thrilling. She included elements that represent history and recreation, realized a fanciful view of Kenai, Alaska.

“Anytime a business wants to bring in local art, that’s a big deal to me,” she said. “They want to be part of the community.”

Watkins has been painting murals for many years. She said she began when she was working in health care in North Carolina — creating murals that changed or enhanced the environment and brought patients out of the “institutional setting.” Later, she did murals for Bass Pro Shops. She said mural work has become “kind of my thing.”

Watkins said her focus is usually to bring a person into a scene. She said she wants to include images that mean something to people and take them away from where they are. In her murals, she wants to represent the community.

“That’s always been my view as an artist,” she said.

She applied to create the mural for Walmart when she heard about their community art initiative. She said several Walmart locations are working to feature local art, and she heard about the opportunity from a friend who similarly painted a mural for them in Springfield, Missouri.

As Watkins spoke on Wednesday, she was standing by a mural she was actively painting in Poacher’s Cove in Soldotna. With most mural projects, Watkins said she has to visualize the space — and each comes with its own challenges and lessons.

The Walmart mural was unusual, she said, because she painted it on a smaller canvas, had it imaged, and then it was reproduced on vinyl to be installed at the store.

Watkins said she’s eager and actively working toward seeing more of the artistic communities in Kenai and Soldotna represented through public art displays like murals. She said she’s been in touch with the local chambers of commerce and is hoping to get involved with Kenai and Soldotna’s storefront improvement projects.

“Visible art raises people’s spirits,” she said. “It’s art, its color, it’s fun. I’m hoping that we’ll have more of that going on here — more opportunities.”

Other murals by Watkins can be found in hospitals and hotels in Anchorage, as well as at Anchorage’s Bass Pro Shop. Not all of them, especially at the hospitals, are publicly accessible. More information about Susan Watkins and her work can be found at susanwatkinsfineart.com.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

A mural depicting imagery and iconography of Kenai brightens the entryway of the Walmart in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A mural depicting imagery and iconography of Kenai brightens the entryway of the Walmart in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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