It took a small army to complete the 16-by-28 foot community mural. Nearly 100 eager Nikiski community members filled in the panels over two full-day sessions in a seldom-used classroom at the Nikiski Recreation Center last Friday and Saturday.
Over course of the day each volunteer, donning paint-splattered shirts, navigated chatting clumps friends and family to refill their paint-crusted Paper Dixie cups. After coating a sponge-headed brush with vibrant colored paint, they slowly covered the massive panels that would eventually equal one complete mural.
Anna Widman, art teacher at Nikiski High School, conceptualized the mural. She intends to organize a series of community inclusive art projects to be publicly installed around Nikiski. Her pilot project was a smaller mural at Nikiski High School last year.
“There’s a pretty heavy involvement and desire from the community to promote arts in the area,” said Widman.
Her students came up with the action, recreation theme, Widman said. Half of their initial designs made it into the final draft.
The North Peninsula Service Area Board of Directors was included in the six-month process, and approved the final design, said Rachel Parra, Nikiski recreation center director. The Alaska State Council on the Arts funded the materials for the project and the Recreation Center covered the other costs, she said.
On painting day the students’ sketches hung above the bustling room, tacked to the western wall of the classroom, a quick view into the project’s foundations. Paint often ended up on hands and faces in the chaos.
Opaque, chalky colored buckets sat in the corner for cleaning utensils, while cubbies under the window brimmed with puffy coats a result of the fresh snowfall from the night before.
Andrew Hunter, with a yellow streak of paint on his cheek, said he was looking forward to helping out, but would have been less enthusiastic had they been working outside.
High school students will finish up painting this week, and the final result will be hung on the side of the center sometime in August, Parra said.
In 2013, Widman contacted Parra with a request to hang the new mural at the recreation center, a centralized hub of local activity, Parra said.
Donations came from local businesses M & M Market, and Charlie’s Pizza donated food and beverages for the painting sessions, and Epperheimer Inc., offered to cover the completed product in a protective clear coat to finish it up, Parra said.
Grouchy Old Woman Bed and Breakfast provided free housing for Seward artist in residence Justine Pechuzal, who was asked to help organize the project.
Pechuzal was commissioned by the city of Seward in 2009 to create a mural for Alaska’s 50th anniversary of statehood. Since then she has traveled to rural Alaskan towns organizing community murals under the Alaska State Council on the Arts’ Artist in Schools Program, which is how she originally connected with Widman for the first mural, she said.
Pechuzal said she would work with the Nikiski community, until Widman is ready to take over handling future projects.
“I am really excited about what Anna is doing, she is really building on something,” Pechuzal said.
Being in Nikiski has been particularly satisfying witnessing a group of tight-knit people with cohesive relationships, Pechuzal said. Everyone always had a good attitude and enjoyed working.