Palmer artist John Coyne stands near “The Pod,” a sculpture of three orcas’ backs and dorsal fins that will be placed in front of the Douglas Fish & Game Building on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2018. The artwork was paid for by the requirement that 1 percent of the cost of a public building must be spent on art. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Palmer artist John Coyne stands near “The Pod,” a sculpture of three orcas’ backs and dorsal fins that will be placed in front of the Douglas Fish & Game Building on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2018. The artwork was paid for by the requirement that 1 percent of the cost of a public building must be spent on art. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Meet ‘The Pod’: Orca sculptures destined for Douglas Fish & Game Building

Works paid for by state’s Percent for Art program

A trio of sleek dorsal fins protruded from ground near the parking lot by Juneau Montessori School and captured the attention of some school children walking by.

The unmistakable orca fins are bronze sculptures that were temporarily parked Thursday while waiting out the preparation of their permanent home across 3rd Street in front of the Fish & Game building.

“They represent the mysteries and primordial power of Southeast Alaska,” said sculptor John Coyne of Palmer, who made the sculptures that depict three whales.

Coyne said “The Pod” was partly inspired by a close encounter with orcas he had while living on Sisters Island in the Aleutians East Borough.

“We’d go out fishing on a 20-foot skiff, and a pod of orcas went by, and I never forgot how that felt,” Coyne said.

While Coyne was born in Alaska, he spent more time in Maryland and Iowa, and the Sisters Island experience was among the first times he saw orcas in the wild.

The three statues vary in size and represent a three-whale family.

“The big guy is 14 feet long, the mom is 11 feet long, and the smallest one, Junior, is 8 feet long,” Coyne said.

The partial whales took about 18 months to complete, Coyne said, and they were forged at Arctic Fires Bronze Studio in Palmer and shipped to their new home.

“All the tools, all the equipment, all the work was all kept in state,” Coyne said.

Both boat-building and surfboard-making technology and techniques were used to make the statues and smooth them out, Coyne said. “The Pod” also has stainless steel armature, or sculpture framework.

“They’re extremely tough,” Coyne said.

A statue statute

The orcas came to Douglas because of Alaska’s Percent for Art Program.

The 43-year-old program stipulates that 1 percent of the cost of construction of a public building be set aside for permanent artwork. It works somewhat like putting a project out for bid with a request for artists, a review of designs and proposals by an art committee and a selection.

Many cities, including the City and Borough of Juneau, have similar local ordinances, but it was the state act that pertained to “The Pod.”

According to Northwind Architect’s website, work on the Douglas Island Building cost about $12 million to and was completed in 2015, and the sculptures cost about $120,000.

“The total dollar amount infused into Alaska’s economy is $122,455.00, which includes materials, artist design fee, transportation to the site, engineering and all line items you would expect in a construction project that takes two years,” said Kimberly Finley, state leasing & facilities manager, via email.

Coyne is no stranger to the Percent for Art Program. He has made installations through the program that are on display in Nome, Palmer, Kenai and Seward, but this is the first of his work that will be visible in Juneau.

The orcas are also among the largest three-dimensional sculptures that Coyne has made.

“Normally, I do wall reliefs,” Coyne said. Wall reliefs are sculptures that generally are flush to the wall with sculpted elements attached to a solid background.

However, Coyne said he wouldn’t rule out returning to the form, or even replicating the project.

“Say someone wanted me to make one of these for their lawn, I’d be more than happy to,” Coyne said.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


Palmer artist John Coyne stands next to his three orca sculptures ready for installation at the Douglas Fish & Game Building on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Palmer artist John Coyne stands next to his three orca sculptures ready for installation at the Douglas Fish & Game Building on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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