While Michael Orelove moved away from Juneau over 15 years ago and passed away earlier this month, his artwork left a lasting legacy in the capital city that can still be seen today.
Orelove, who was behind many beloved community projects died on Jan. 3, peacefully in his sleep at the age of 80, according to his son Jonathon Turlove. In Juneau, Orelove was responsible for the map of the United States on Merchants Wharf, the Hurff A. Saunders Federal Building’s 100-year time capsule, and the planet walk at Twin Lakes. Close friend Joyanne Bloom said that while his warm presence and creativity will be missed, his projects will live on for years to come.
“I benefited a whole lot from knowing Michael,” Bloom said. “He was a real asset to the community for sure, he was always lighting things up. He was just a guy that was out there and was fun. Very unconventional, he was a big guy with a big heart and a big presence.”
Originally from the Budlong Woods neighborhood in Chicago, Orelove was a Juneau resident for 34 years, from 1972 to 2006. After serving in the Army, he met his first wife Fran and together they soon had their only son Jonathon Turlove. Turlove said when he was four his parents divorced and it was at that point that his father decided to move to Juneau at the invitation of his sister Merle.
According to Turlove, it was in Juneau where his father’s creativity really blossomed. Examples of this range anywhere from rib dinners on the floor while eating out of troughs, birthday pie fights inside Turlove’s room, hiking the Chilkoot trail in a tuxedo, a gorilla suit nailed on his office wall in protest of real taxidermists, withdrawing thousands of dollars for a game of Monopoly, or even nailing wood framing to the wall to create picture frames for friends to make paintings directly on the wall. After retiring as a budget analyst for the department of public safety at the age of 55, Turlove said that’s when the bulk of his creative projects started to take shape.
Turlove said his father’s many projects are likely to stay in the community’s memory mostly because of how often Orelove went out of his way to make the community a part of those very projects. For instance, Orelove’s 2004 Merchant Wharf’s map of the United States was made with 50,000 nails, and Turlove said he could remember tourists asking his dad what he was doing and after explaining it was an art project, Orelove would invite them to hammer in the nail for their hometown.
“They’d say they were from Omaha or some place like that and my dad would say, ‘Okay, you want to put in a nail for Omaha?’ So, he’d get tourists to pound a nail in and sort of be a part of that. I think that’s what really got him excited, seeing the joy that other people had in participating in something that maybe that hadn’t ever been involved with,” Turlove said. “He just really liked giving people that kind of experience.”
Orelove was also responsible for the large tide gauge at the floatplane dock at Merchants Wharf as well as the sundial near the Mount Roberts Tram. According to Turlove, there’s also a secret community project in Juneau that Orelove never publicized, which is located along the vertical boards that form the waterside edge of the Alaska Steamship Dock. Turlove said that it’s in this location where his father did another planet walk made entirely out of nails. The nails form the first letter of each of the planets, and the distance between each planet is the correct relative distance between the real planets.
Another one of Turlove’s more memorable stories of his father’s projects comes from the time when Orelove was spearheading an effort to make sure Alaska was represented with a stone in the Tribune Tower in Chicago. In 1999, on a visit to Chicago, Orelove saw that the Tribune Tower had stones from every state except Alaska embedded into the exterior of the building. This began what Turlove described as a two-year process of securing a stone from the top of Denali. Though the stone would eventually become a part of the display in 2001, as Turlove explained, it wasn’t without challenges.
“He found out through the park service that you can’t take anything out of the park, so they wouldn’t be able to give away a piece of the park for a project like that,” Turlove said. “He saw there was a little piece of the moon embedded in the Chicago display and he knew from his interest in astronomy that no one is supposed to own a piece of the moon. He looked into that and found that NASA had only leased a piece of the moon to the Chicago Tribune for a hundred years or something like that, but because it was a loan rather than given away, that was allowed. That’s ultimately how they were able to get the stone from Denali, the park service agreed to loan it to the city for a hundred years or whatever.”
Orelove was also a local astronomer who led shows at the Marie Drake Planetarium for many years throughout his time in town. Turlove said his father had an observatory dome added to his house at the base of Mount Juneau and a solar telescope set up on Merchants Wharf to show the sun. Turlove said his father’s love of astronomy was a big motivating factor for the sundial he installed at the docks in Juneau. Turlove said he could remember his father finding a sundial in Gas Works Park in Seattle, which would later serve as inspiration for his own.
“I remember him being really interested in how the person’s own shadow would cast the shadow that tells the time, he thought that was really cool, which is what motivated him to do something similar in Juneau,” Trulove said. “But in doing so, he always was asking himself, ‘How can we involve the community as much as possible in doing these projects?’ I think that’s what was really fun for him and more satisfying.”
Orelove was also often found at the Alaska Folk Festival volunteering to lead the production and sales of mugs and T-shirts to raise money for the festival. He was also involved in the Friends of the Flags group helping install and remove state flags along Egan Drive, as well as was the Alaska State Gold Panning Champion, and his cherished Bagelaskas are said to have won many awards.
In 2006, Orelove moved to Portland, Oregon, in search of love,according to Trulove, which he very much found. Kathleen Forrest would become the love of his life as they spent over 14 years happily together. Turlove said the couple were so happy that the word “Wow” became their relationship’s slogan. It became such a slogan that in true Orelove fashion, he started finding a variety of creative ways to express it, everything from “Wow” being made with Scrabble letters on his lapel or “Wow”on his car’s dashboard or even “Wow” embroidered with nautical flag symbols on his coat.
Orelove left an impression on everyone who met him and aside from his creativity, Turlove said, and the thing he thinks his father will be remembered for the most is his generosity. In addition to the city’s time capsule, starting in 1980 Orelove would box up his own time capsules for his son to open every year starting in 2000. Eventually time capsules would give way to what Turlove said was affectionately referred to as “Michael Mail.” Every week Orelove would send everyone he knew, well over 100 people, different things in the mail, everything from newspaper clippings, articles, anything he was interested in. Orelove would then stamp each envelope with big letters that read “Michael Mail” so there’d never be confusion as to who it was from.
“He really lived his life by a different set of rules, he just really loved having fun and doing things a little differently,” Turlove said. “He was a very generous, fun loving spirit, that’s for sure.”
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at email@example.com.