Behind the scenes with Juneau’s public art

Transfiguration, by Bruce Elliott at the Juneau Public Library can be seen on the Art Walk.

Transfiguration, by Bruce Elliott at the Juneau Public Library can be seen on the Art Walk.

Salmon transform as they make their way up Juneau’s skyline. A miner painted on black velvet turns away to urinate against the wall. An empty chair commemorates John Tanaka, the valedictorian who missed graduation at Juneau Douglas High School when he, along with more than 50 other Japanese-Americans, was forced to move to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.

Juneau’s full of interesting public art, and a new Juneau Arts and Humanities Council tour guided by local artists aims to help visitors and locals alike get more familiar with it.

I walked downtown Juneau with local guitarist and guide Dan Hopson soon after the tours began on May 14. Word still needs to spread, Hopson said – he’s only had one paying client so far, a travel writer visiting from the Lower 48.

“All the public art in Juneau is so representative of all the layers of culture and ethnicity in the town,” Hopson said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful cross section slice of life and history in Juneau.”

There are 32 official stops on the Art Walk, but there are more you can add. Hopson, a retired biologist, has lived in Juneau for 45 years but is still wowed by the new things he’s learning as he familiarizes himself with the art on the tour, he said.

Much of Juneau’s art lends itself to discussion of local history, as well. For example, Ed Way’s Hard Rock Miner statue in Marine Park can spur discussion of how mining literally changed Juneau’s landscape. (That topic is also a focus of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum’s historic walking tours. Find out more about them at the end of this article.) Guides also customize the art walk to their clients. Some people are more interested in learning about formline art; others might be more interested in seeing working artists or totem poles (Wasgo Totem, or Old Witch Totem in the State Office Building dates back to 1880). Maybe it’s a rainy day and you’re over 21, so you spend a little longer at the (very interesting, once I actually stopped to look at it) painting on black velvet of miners at the Triangle Bar. (It’s not an official stop, though it is listed as “notable.”)

First off, though, is Dan DeRoux’s 1986 mural, “Ancon,” a ship whose passengers are members of many of Juneau’s long-time families; Hopson pointed some out for us. Then there’s “Transfiguration,” the stained glass work by Bruce Elliot on the fourth floor library entrance, Ray Peck’s multi-story “Traditional and Modern Ways of Fishing” metal wall sculpture, and two other installations, and that’s all just in the downtown library and parking garage building.

One of the stops on the tour is Native arts co-op Haa Shagóon, where Rudolph M. Isturis (“you spell my name H-A-N-D-S-O-M-E,” he joked) was engraving formline designs onto silver lined with copper just inside the entrance.

We also wandered into the Walter Soboleff Building, where Leonilei Abbott told us about her mother, renowned elder Helen Watkins, who had a wealth of knowledge about the natural world and who “walked into the forest” earlier this year. In a room next to the clan house, Lily Hope and Ricky Tagaban wove a robe.

The tour may also stop at other galleries with working artists, like Sketch (M.K. MacNaughton) and Trickster Gallery (Rico and Crystal Worl) but doesn’t focus on commercial establishments, Hopson said.

Later, we stood in front of “From the Stream of History,” a mural by Arnie Weimer at Third and Franklin Streets. Standing and looking at it, I saw things I hadn’t before — a person who looked familiar, the shadows cast by a bust, a bird, and many other figures outside the “holes” in the wall serving as portals into Juneau’s history.

“You really absorb a lot of feeling of what Juneau’s about,” Hopson said.

Along with Hopson, local actor Christina Apathy will guide tours when she returns from travels and artist Amanda Filori will fill in at times, said JAHC executive director Nancy DeCherney.

The tours begin at the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau kiosk in Marine Park and finish at the JAHC, lasting about 2½ hours at their full length. They begin at 1 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and will run until Sept. 15. They cost $20 per person.

Those who want to guide themselves can print the map out at but I definitely had more fun and learned more walking around with Hopson than I would have on my own.

“There’s more stuff than you would think,” DeCherney said. “It’s just really interesting when you start to think about it — there’s a lot of really fun, quirky artwork in this town.”

The Juneau-Douglas City Museum’s historic downtown walking tours are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. A tour at the same time on Saturday focuses on “local heroes.” Find out more here:

• Contact Capital City Weekly editor Mary Catharine Martin at

Dan Hopson leads an Art Walk tour in downtown Juneau in May that includes a mural on the side of the Juneau Public Library by Dan DeRoux.

Dan Hopson leads an Art Walk tour in downtown Juneau in May that includes a mural on the side of the Juneau Public Library by Dan DeRoux.

Dan Hopson waits to lead an Art Walk tour in downtown Juneau in May.

Dan Hopson waits to lead an Art Walk tour in downtown Juneau in May.

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